Anyone who has moved to a new city for any length of time will be familiar with the inevitable onslaught of “firsts” that occur – and Hong Kong is no exception! The first time you go to the Peak, your first junk, your first T8 day-off, your first Chinese foot-rub… The first time you hear the phrase “free-flow”, the first time you do “free-flow”, the first time you say “I’m never doing free-flow” again… And the list goes on!
But conventional “firsts” aside, Hong Kong’s very particular nature, unique way of life, and pressure-cooker-like living, means there are also lots of new social behaviours that start to manifest themselves for the first time too. New words you start to use everyday, new habits you pick up, and new things you do that you’d never have considered doing at home but now seem to be the norm. Here’s my list of Hong Kong Firsts… any sound familiar?!
First Wan Chai experience
It was just another Sunday morning. Except it was different. I woke with the distinct feeling that something had gone terribly awry. Why could I smell cigarette smoke and Red Bull all at once? And oh no, what where those flashing bunny ears doing on my bedside table – and why were they still flashing?! And that’s when those two little words that nobody ever wants to hear appeared before my mind’s eye: Wan Chai.
Before that night I had been a Wan Chai virgin. Usually people get sucked into the dark depths of Wan Chai very early on in their love affair with HK, but not me. I had been in Hong Kong for 434 days before succumbing to the snare of the dreaded WC. As I cried into a bucket and swore never to drink anything from a bottle that had “GIN” written on it in permanent marker EVER again, I realised that this was just one of those inevitable Hong Kong “firsts” that I had to accept. Yes, dancing in a bar called Spicy Fingers probably wasn’t strictly necessary, but this day was bound to come around…
Waited for a bus in a bank
Where I’m from, there are many negatives about waiting for a bus – actually waiting for it… waiting in the rain… queuing etiquette (do you line up in a long snake, or pretend you’ve spotted someone you know at the front?). Despite all of this, never once did I have to worry about the time I am waiting and how much sweat my body will produce in the process. Thank god for Hang Seng and their free-flowing aircon. Who said banks were good for nothing?!
Moaned about very silly things
We’ve all heard the phrase “first world problem”, but never have we heard it more since arriving in Hong Kong. Before our everyday niggles used to be about train-delays, drizzle or what to have for tea. On moving to HK, you quickly take leave of all perspective. Your niggles and grievances start to involve swimming pools, champagne and *having* to go to Thailand because you left it too late to book your CNY hols. A few corkers I’ve overheard since arriving:
- “I love my apartment, but the pool’s a bit small.”
OK, you pay a lot for your apartment in Hong Kong. A heinous amount, probably. Enough to feed a family of four for a year. But are you really allowed to moan about the size of your swimming pool? No, you are not! You will sit by your tiny swimming pool, with a magazine and a cocktail, and think about what you’ve done.
- “I think I prefer cucumber when it’s shredded.”
As soon as the words escaped my mouth, I wanted to swallow them whole (…or should that be shredded?!). Where I come from, cucumbers are used primarily as a sandwich filler, an eye-wrinkle remedy or a tool to show teenagers what’s what when it comes to the birds and the bees. They were never shredded. But now I’ve come to Hong Kong, things have changed. Vegetables we once knew in their organic form, the way nature intended them, have been gourmet-ed beyond all recognition. And so have the people eating them, apparently!
- “Urgh. I hate getting up so early for junk trips.”
Nobody loves an early start, especially when late finishes are something of a way of life in this city. But you’re spending your Saturday on a boat, in the South China Sea, surrounded by your friends, a sea breeze in your hair (and your hand!), and a steak for lunch. General good times abound. You will get out of bed at 8.30am and enjoy yourself!
Closed the lift on someone, on purpose
I am ashamed to admit that before I came to Hong Kong, I had not yet mastered the difference between the “close lift doors” and “open lift doors” buttons. When I saw someone approaching, my fingers darted between both buttons and panicking, I usually ended up mouthing, “Sorry” as I watched the doors close on someone’s face. Thankfully, now I’m in Hong Kong, I know these buttons only too well! Correction, I know the “close” button – mainly because I see people stabbing it with their index finger like their lives depend on it when someone is legging it towards the door. Neighbourly? Absolutely not. Useful cultural habit to take advantage of when you’re in a hurry? Definitely!
Contemplated existing on juice alone for 7 days straight
Since arriving in Hong Kong, it’s likely that you have met someone who has partaken in so much debauchery that they’ve considered replacing solid food for liquids made from vegetables for an entire week as penance. That, or you are the debauched party and have considered it yourself. Either way, it’s just not right! Gone are the days when juice was a refreshing drink to wash down a fry-up, or an easy way to quickly bump up the ‘five a day’ scale. Never, upon never, should it stand-in for a full meal. Behave yourself!
Said the word ‘lee-doh’
You know the drill. You have visitors in town. You pick them up from their airport and as the cab is approaching your block of flats, your big moment arrives. “Errr… lee-doh, lee-doh,” you say, as you helpfully gesture to the left side of the street. You glance back at your friends, who are of course, in awe of your newfound linguistic prowess. Yes, the driver will usually respond, “Anywhere ‘ere do, love?”, but that doesn’t matter because your friends now think you’re a remarkably worldly-wise individual, with endless Cantonese phrases up your sleeve, ready to pepper any conversation. And haven’t you? Ai ya, you have!
Shopped with a “shadow” and/or told a shop assistant to leave you alone
When I first came to Hong Kong, I wandered into a boutique to browse alone. Or so I thought… except every move I made was closely followed by a very attentive shop assistant. I moved left. So did she. I tried to escape by hiding behind a rack of clothes – but she was behind the rack of clothes before I was. My politest, “I’m ok, just looking on my own,” was met with a blank and confused stare. So naturally, I spluttered something about needing some alone time and fled from the shop.
In the UK, the only time a shop assistant ever follows you around is when they suspect you’re going to steal something. Here in Hong Kong, when you shop, you shop with a shadow. Shop assistants in Hong Kong are eager to cater for your every possible need – they want to tell you there’s more upstairs, they have more colours available, and did you know there were more sizes too?! Most alarmingly, some of them even want to stay within 2cm of your body the entire time you’re in the shop. They like to be on hand, they like to be helpful and the longer you live here, the more you realise that this all comes from a good place. In the UK, you’d be lucky if the shop assistant held eye contact with you for more than 0.5 seconds. Is there a happy medium somewhere out there? Here’s hoping!
Anna is a Communications Consultant originally from the UK, now living in Hong Kong. She writes about anything and everything of note, plus all the lovely things that she stumbles upon in Hong Kong, on her blog Blue Ruby Notes. You can also find her on Twitter @msannafarrell