Saturday, May 19, 2012

Adapting to Hong Kong part 3

More of the toughest things about adapting to life in Hong Kong.

The biggest difference I’ve noticed is the way we think. What’s common sense to an American is alien to a Chinese – and their version probably wouldn’t make any sense to us. I was raised to say hello to people when they say hello. When someone gives me something, I thank them. When I want something, I say please. If I’m walking and someone’s heading my way, I’ll get out of their way. If I accidentally bump into someone, I apologize. Waiting your turn is essential in a civilized society. Jumping in front of people who were there before you is beyond rude. These are all things I learned at an early age. None of it makes any sense to Chinese people. I don’t know all of their customs and I’m sure I do things they consider rude, but I think being courteous and civil is universal. I’m not sure how cutting in line can ever be courteous.

I’ve also noticed that a lot of people in Hong Kong are very racist. They’re not violent about it. No one’s going to string me up from a tree or spit in my face. I’m completely safe walking down the street in the middle of the night. I’ve done it, too. I’ve walked down dark alleys late at night that I’d never go near in America. There’s just not much violent crime here. Even though most of the locals probably look down at me, they’d never attack me. The most they ever do is point and call me a foreigner. I think that’s rude, but it’s not violent. It doesn’t hurt me – I am a foreigner. No matter what I do or how long I live here I’ll always be a foreigner. I don’t look Chinese and never will.

I pay higher prices for a lot of things because of my race. Go to any market and as soon as they see a white face, the price is 5 times higher than it would be for a Chinese. Everyone haggles anyway, but they start far too high with foreigners. I’ve been to restaurants where the prices are posted right on the wall, but they tell me it’s higher. Some restaurants won’t even serve me at all. Some of that is because they don’t know English and they assume I don’t know any Chinese. It’s just easier to tell me to leave than to deal with it. Some of it is pure racism.

Not that there’s no racism in my country. It’s all over the place. We have a pretty bleak history. I’m lucky that I’ve never really had to deal with it. I’ve heard comments from people who aren’t white, but if you’re white in America, you don’t have anything to complain about. We’ve always had it easier than everyone. If I go to an audition in the United States, I never have to ask if they’ll consider white people. If you’re black, you have to ask if it’s a “black part”. I’ve never had a bus or taxi not stop for me. I’ve never run home crying because someone called me a racial slur. I was called a honky once, but it didn’t make me cry. I don’t even know what that means. Most of all, my ancestors were never kidnapped from their homes and sold into slavery. Slavery was a long time ago, but my ancestors are Highland Scottish. Our troubles were a very long time ago.

American racists usually know they’re racist – they just don’t have a problem with it. I don’t think Chinese people know when they’re racist. It’s just common knowledge to them that everyone who isn’t Chinese is inferior. They don’t consider it racist when they tell their young children to point and scream “weigouren!” Chinese people are taught to be racist very young.

I didn’t mean for this to all sound negative, but it’s the toughest things about adapting to Hong Kong, not the easiest things. I’m the foreigner here. I’m the one who has to adapt to their ways. This is their country. It will never be mine. I could live here the rest of my life and I’d still just be a visitor.


  1. Recently found your blog and love it! Appreciate your observations on HK, esp. some of the not-commendable (to put it midly) behaviors/manners. Vis-a-vis Beijing, HK seems an inferior cousin (not that Beijing is a bed of roses) when it comes to culture.

  2. I'm not trying to say it's all bad - it's just different.

  3. My wife and I had a good laugh reading your observations. My wife is Chinese, born in Macau, who lived in Hong Kong for several years. I am your average white guy from the Northeastern United States. We are not sure what you mean by weigouren. Gwuelo is the usual term for whites, which literally means ghost man. Chinese take shopping and gambling to another level, it is sometimes difficult to explain it to my American friends. Funny thing is, I love Hong Kong. My wife, not so much. Enjoy your trip back to the states


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