Expat issues

There are certain problems only expats have, and the Batgung have likely had most of them. We tell you aaaallll about them here.

Citizens or expats?

I've just finished reading a sci-fi classic, Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein. Unlike the execrable 1997 movie by the same name (it was a very loose adaptation), the book explores deeply the questions of what makes a man a warrior, and what makes him fit to lead others.

Heinlein's central idea is thought-provoking, whether you agree with it or not. That is, he proposes that full citizenship in a democracy is a privilege earned only by those who commit to defend and preserve that society through a term of service, especially military service. Only those willing to sacrifice themselves -- even to die -- should be granted the right to govern a society, i.e. to hold political office, and to vote. Those who choose to remain civilians retain all of the other 'civil' rights we associate with western liberal democracies -- e.g. freedom of speech, assembly, association, religion -- but they have no say in how things are run. They haven't proven that they care enough about the greater good to deserve political power over others. Read more »

Baby pressure

I was chatting with a colleague of mine the other day, and the subject of babies came up, as it often does -- she's pregnant, due in less than four months. She and her husband had been out over the weekend doing some 'getting ready for Baby' shopping at a very large, expat-oriented baby-n-kids shop in Horizon Plaza in Ap Lei Chau. HK expats with kids will already know the place, and for the rest of you, the name will likely be meaningless anyway, so I'll just omit it. The point was, this colleague (who's originally from New Zealand, by the way) asked me what I thought of the place, and was relieved to find that I thought it was fairly creepy, as she had, too. Read more »

Rudeness reconsidered

A while back I considered the topic of rudeness in Hong Kong culture. One suggestion I made was that things on this front were likely to get better since, in an unexpected turnabout, it's typically the older generation here who's far ruder than younger people.

The Talls were out shopping the other night, and had a couple of picture-perfect confirmations of this unlikely fact.

Since Toddler Tall is just 16 months old, we still take her out in a stroller on most outings. When we take the MTR, we therefore try to use those extra-wide turnstiles. The problem is, these turnstiles serve both those getting on the train, and those getting off. This means it's easy to get stuck behind a long line of people going through from the other direction, one after another, before the electronic controls on the turnstile make it possible for someone on the 'wrong' side to use it. Lots of Hong Kong people who aren't carrying large packages or pushing baby strollers, or wheelchairs, or whatever, use these turnstiles in order to save the couple of steps it would take to get to one of the regular ones. Read more »

Expat traps

I enjoy being an expatriate, but it's not the life for everyone. If you're an unwilling expat, i.e. you've been ordered to pull up stakes and move halfway around the world to an alien culture, life can seem miserable indeed. It's inevitable that people in such situations lash out in frustration, meaning they're usually not exactly pleasant to be around.

But even we willing expats are prone to falling into psychological and moral traps that are inherent to the very condition of being expats. I wrote earlier about a minor one, exotic food machismo. Here I'd like to introduce you to three much more serious expat traps. Read more »

Schools part II: Getting into a good school in Hong Kong

If Hong Kong expat parents decide to send their children to local schools, then begins the intimidating process of trying to get them into a 'good' one. Parents all over the world try hard to get the best education possible for their children, of course, so in one sense there's nothing unusual about this. But the lengths to which some Hong Kong parents will go beggar belief.

Why is getting into a good school such a big deal here? Read more »

Schools in Hong Kong, part I

Soon the Talls -- and a little later, the Baldings -- must make a fundamental child-raising choice. Do we send our little darlings to local schools, or to expatriate-dominated international schools?

This is a no-brainer for expats who arrive in Hong Kong with children who are already school-aged: since such children don't speak or read Chinese, it's international school (or English Schools Foundation schools, which I'm lumping together with international schools for pure convenience) or nothing, and in Hong Kong 'nothing' is illegal. Read more »

Gwai privilege?

Any expat who's been in Hong Kong long enough will hear rumors: you expats get treated better sometimes than local people do! We'll call this phenomenon 'gwai privilege'.

First, what is gwai privilege?

In a nutshell, I'd say it's a form of inverted racism, in which a gwai (i.e. non-Chinese person, specifically a westerner) is treated better than a local Chinese person would be in the same situation.

Does gwai privilege really exist? Read more »

Domestic helpers in Hong Kong

A revelation for many expats in Hong Kong is the expectation that they'll employ a full-time domestic helper. I use the term 'expectation' intentionally. Most expatriates -- especially families -- are likely to make far more money than is needed to afford this arrangement. Tens of thousands of local Hong Kong Chinese families also employ domestic helpers as well, of course.

For most of us expats, having someone living in your home who does the cooking, cleaning and childcare is a huge adjustment. It's a marvelous luxury, but it brings up a number of issues and problems you might not anticipate that can cause big problems. Read more »

Some expats you might meet in Hong Kong

In the spirit of our analysis of the gymrats, here's a rundown of some of the expats you may meet here in Hong Kong.

The 'Proper' Englishman: in the past, he was definitely a civil servant. Now, he's likely been sent out by his company to be a desk jockey in their Hong Kong operation. Immediately recognizable by his uncontrollable use of the word 'proper', e.g. 'Why can't the bloody Chinese do a proper . . . . (fill in the blank with anything from 'fish and chips' to 'parliamentary system of governance'. Can be spotted in any of a number of expat-dominated clubs, berating the bartender about beer temperatures. His wife is summarized perfectly here [scroll down to the bottom of the page], by Mr Hemlock. Read more »

Why paying your Hong Kong taxes should make you happy!

Mrs Tall and I recently paid our yearly Hong Kong taxes. I used to dread this day, since I have a real aversion to sending money to any government. You don’t want to get me started on my US taxes, for example!

But I’ve come to appreciate the Hong Kong tax system.

First, you can’t deny the beauty of its simplicity. I filled out my tax form this year in about nine minutes. That included time: to get a pen that wrote instead the dud I picked up first; watch several minutes of the news on TV; and to eat an entire Fuji apple while trying to avoid dripping on my tax form. I’m also not that bright when it comes to formulas and numbers and ratios and such, but the Hong Kong tax form is so simple even I’m not held back by it. Most people can probably finish theirs off in an ad break between TV shows. You really need only three bits of information: your income, which your employer will tell you about; your charitable donations, which the organizations you donate to will tell you about; and your mortgage interest, which your bank will tell you about. The situation gets more complex if you run your own business, of course, but that’s what accountants are good for. Read more »

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