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.

Owning a car in Hong Kong

One of the key decisions any reasonably well-off family in Hong Kong must make is whether or not to keep a car. For many expats, especially we Americans, life without a car borders on the unthinkable. But running a car in Hong Kong presents a set of very particular problems.

I think I can offer some well-balanced comments on this subject. Mrs Tall and I didn't have a car for the first four years of our marriage, and then for three years we did -- and now we don't, once again. Read more »

Is Hong Kong child-friendly?

In a letter to the Batgung, an American thinking of moving to Hong Kong asked if Hong Kong is 'child friendly'. There are a number of ways to tackle this question. Read more »

Expat loyalties

Mr Tall is not joining the Taliban, unlike at least one of his fellow Americans. Never the less, he wonders sometimes about just how loyal to his homeland he really is. Mr Tall is an American, from deep, deep, deep in the heartland, the home of Jell-o salads, green bean casserole, and flags on the front porch. But he's chosen to live his adult life far away from his home, he has no plans of returning anytime soon, and he may in fact never go back.

Well, since I don't want to sound like a terminally narcissistic sports star, I'll desist for the moment from referring to myself in the third person. I've been thinking about this national loyalty thing a lot in the past three months, for obvious 9/11-related reasons. In particular, we've seen young Johnny Walker the Pure Islamist Wonderboy creeping from his subterranean Afghan lair. He's likely to face charges of treason or something of the ilk -- as well he should, the little snake. Read more »

Exotic food machismo

Expatriates are prone to developing bad habits. One that's hard for many of us long-time expats to avoid is what I'll call 'exotic food machismo', or EFM.

EFM is simply trying to impress others with what you're willing to eat. It takes some time to develop, but it can then last you a lifetime. Sometimes this means showing off for the local people in the country you're living in; more often EFM is practiced with other expatriates, particularly those visiting you for the first time. It's usually -- but not always -- men who are afflicted with it, much like regular machismo.

I caught myself at it recently at a dinner in a private club hosted by a Chinese couple. The food was exquisite high-end Cantonese fare. There were appetizers in little dishes around the table; one of these was a dish of 'thousand year eggs', i.e. eggs that have been preserved in their shells via an unmentionable chemical process. The egg whites turn an odd brownish color, and the yolks go a sick green. They taste of ammonia, but in the best possible way. I really like them. Next to me sat another expat, one who's been in Hong Kong even longer than I have. He was encouraged by our host to try the eggs (I of course needed no such license), but he politely declined. I asked -- with just a touch of condescension -- if he'd ever tried them before, and he said no, not ever. Read more »

Rudeness and cultural differences

I came across a new story the other day about two men in the USA, both in their late 30s, who got into an argument about the rules for the baseball league their sons played in. It started with harsh words, escalated to fisticuffs, and culminated in the two of them taking turns whacking each other with, appropriately enough, a baseball bat. But at least they were sharing!

Anyway, the story brought to mind any number of similar incidents that have called into question the health of the civil society in America. I've seen very similar articles about 'Rude Britannia', too.

Here in Hong Kong, things often seem no better, but for different reasons. I've tried over my years here to understand Hong Kong-style rudeness, and I've made a couple of observations. They're based to some degree on things I've read about Chinese culture, but they're mostly the products of long and irritating experience. Read more »

What's a gwailouh?

There comes a time in many a Hong Kong expatriate cultural commentator's life when he must face the word: gwai louh.

As anyone who's been simultaneously conscious and physically present in Hong Kong for more than three days knows, 'gwai louh' is the Cantonese slang term for a white-skinned foreigner. It's not a very nice term. I've seen it translated as 'foreign devil' most often, but this is only a rough attempt at nailing down its sense. For one thing, there's no direct reference to 'foreign' in the term 'gwai louh': 'gwai' means ghost or other unwholesome inhabitant of the netherworld; 'louh' simply means 'old guy'. Read more »

Gonna learn the Wah?

Gonna learn the Wah? If you're newly arrived in HK, you may be wondering whether or not to learn Chinese. Unless you have a large amount of free time on your hands, you probably won't be able to learn to read and write, but you can certainly pick up the spoken language.  Read more »

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