Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Little Culture for you

I've been meaning to write this posting for awhile -- and at first contemplated giving each of these things their own posting. Then I realized that would require research and frankly I'm too lazy for that. (If it can't be Wikipedia'd, I have no use for it.)

As you'd expect, there are a million new things I've encountered in HK. Here's a smattering:


Helpers are domestic maids and nannies rolled into one. Most are from the Philippines and the majority are live-ins. Every single relocation guide we received from Morgan Stanley dedicated an entire chapter on helpers. The basic gist was "get over your western guilt and hire a helper" because pretty much everyone here has one. In fact a woman I know who lived in HK for 10 years said, "you're crazy if you don't get a helper" in the first 5 minutes of our conversation about me moving here. Labor is cheap in HK; you can get a live-in helper for around $300 a month and a part-time one for $60 every 2 weeks.
Most apartments in HK have helper quarters -- a room and a toilet, usually off the kitchen. I was prepared for them to be small but taken off guard at just how small they are. They make special helper beds that are small enough to fit in such rooms because a child's bed is too big.

Anyway, the live-in helpers work Monday - Saturday. On their day off, they all congregate in outdoor places throughout the city -- sidewalks, parks, anywhere public. They lay down their cardboard and blankets, spread out their food and spend their day off playing cards, gossiping or sewing. When I say they are EVERYWHERE on a Sunday, I mean it. This picture was taken in one of the elevated walkways that joins two buildings in Central. They lined the football-sized place. Not sure what the umbrellas were for since this place was enclosed (privacy, maybe?)


Whenever a new store or business opens, someone (friends? the government? the Better Business Bureau?) sends them funeral flowers which are displayed outside for a few days. This A/X Armani Exchange clearly just opened. These funeral flowers actually look nice and not cheap...and there's a tasteful amount on display. Clearly someone did some editing because this is not the norm.

Our second day here, we walked out on Queen's Road and I swear to God you could see flowers for miles. It looked like Buckingham Palace after Princess Di died. There must've been 200 different arrangements -- and they all had that funeral look to them: propped up on stands, emblazoned with "Congratulations!" banners, flowers arranged in a distinct "spray" formation. Oh and they smell like funeral flowers -- lots of lilies, if you catch my drift.


People here celebrate Halloween.

Am I the only one who thought Halloween was a US holiday?


Hong Kong flea markets remind me of NYC street fairs. People sell socks and bed sheets, flowers and trinkets. I haven't spotted a guy selling CDs of club music yet but I'm sure he's out there! They sell their own version of grilled corn or sausage kebabs -- none of which I've been brave enough to try (especially after my horrendous bout with food poisoning.)

Here women are haggling over bras and panties.


Though everyone speaks English here, it's British English, which takes some getting used to. Here's a quick translation of phrases that have come in handy:

  • queue = line (as in "form a line")
  • toilet = bathroom (no one here has a clue what you're talking about if you ask where the bathroom is)
  • lift = elevator
  • MTR = subway

They do NOT use "chemist" to describe pharmacies, something an unnamed NYC roommate of mine used to say with the haughtiest of airs. One day she asked me if I needed anything from the chemist and I had no clue what she was talking about until she came home with a Duane Reade bag. Did I mention this roommate was from Los Angeles? She also said idiotic things like, "Do y'all know where the loo is?" because she went to UVA and thought this mixing of accents and phrases came off sophisticated. To this day, nothing gets more under my skin than a faux British accent. (Editor's Note: This picture has nothing to do with this cultural insight. It does however give a good impression of what the streets in Central are like.)


It's no secret Asian people have small feet (okay, except for Yao Ming). This normally wouldn't affect me....but it does. Because small feet mean small steps and small steps take some getting used to.

The steps here are both shallow (they don't fit an entire foot on them) and short (the distance between steps is a few inches.) This means that inevitably I find myself scraping the backs of my shoes when I walk down steps. This, in turn, damages my shoes and makes me very angry. I now walk down stairs sideways (and I'm sure people snicker behind my back the entire time.)

This picture is of a street btw. Since HK is built on the side of a mountain, everything is extremely steep. This means that some streets are actually just big-ass staircases. I thought the upside would be that I'd lose a few lbs from walking up these every day. Instead, I opt for the escalator.

1 comment:

  1. FABULOUS insights - seriously, you've done a great job documenting life in HK. I don't think I'll ever have the chance to visit, but through you're posts I'll definitely be able to describe it to someone else! Enjoy your last few days before you head back over this way for a few months...