There's stuff about Hong Kong we like, and stuff we don't, but how about all the other stuff that is just there in all its 'hongkongness'? Here are some of the highlights from the Batgung and their readers.

Mr B starts us off with ...

-- punching the lift door buttons till the door closes (and going back to your home country, getting into the lift, and thinking WHY DOESNT ANYONE PRESS THE BUTTON???)

-- middle-aged men on a warm sunny day with their vests rolled up around their middles

-- those market stalls with strings of super-extra-padded bras. (Ladies, remember the saying that you shouldn't go making a mountain out of a molehill)

-- the Star Ferry, Peak, the view of HK from the TST waterfront, and all the other touristy stuff that you remember how great it is when you've got visitors in town

-- new shops that sit empty for days, then two days before they open two dozen workers descend on it and turn it into something shiny and new

-- flowers outside even the smallest new shop on opening day

-- the paper-thin white cotton shoes that are acceptable footwear for everything from games of football to work on the construction site

-- muscular young men with a suntan, pink rubber gloves, and an apparent deathwish constructing bamboo scaffolding outside some eleventh floor apartment

-- having a group of people stand and watch you eating your dimsum, because they've decided you're the most likely group to be paying up and leaving in the next 30 minutes

-- the inability of office ladies to visit the bathroom alone... "Yat chai hoi chi soh, ho m ho?"

-- being on the train from the Shatin racetrack on a racing day, full of men with their radio plugged in one ear, staring at their papers silently until there's a collective groan as the next race finishes

-- Freddy the weatherman

-- those wierd artificial-pink coloured fish-flavoured sausages

-- Men who only need to shave once a month, and then "shave" with a couple of one-dollar coins.

-- Those big brown eagles sailing past your office window. (Where do they live? What do they eat?)

-- Schoolchildren with book-filled backpacks that are as big (and twice as heavy) as they are.

-- Men who turn lobster-pink after half a pint of beer, but who pour glasses of cognac as if they are serving tea.

-- "Copy Watch? Rolex? Cartier?"

-- "Sir, you need tailor? Make you nice suit, shirt?"

-- "Hey Mister! You take a look -- happy hour, have one beer"

-- "Oh Sir, you have a lucky face. [Pulling out blurry photo of a row of Indian men with long hair and beards...] This is me with my guru. I tell your fortune?"

(Should we run a "Name that Street" contest for the two entries above?)

-- Then there's also the "Thankyouwelcome" type of run-together English. Usually heard from a shop assistant that has learned all the common English phrases the company has taught them, but errs on the side of safety by using them all at once at all times.

-- Hair dyed jet black at Chinese New Year, but then grey roots growing ever-longer for the next 12 months

-- Someone old enough to be your Granny rifling through rubbish bins for empty drink cans, and pushing heavy carts of rubbish along the street :(

-- Ladies holding hands with ladies

-- Men walking along with a hand on each others' shoulders

-- Those Grandpas who've realised that if you take your pyjamas off in the morning you're only going to have to put them on again at night. They've since decided to avoid the hassle by wearing them all day long, whether at home or out on the street

-- The fingernail on one pinky left long for ear-inspection duties

-- Thunk ! The schoolgirl sitting in front of me on the bus last night fell off her seat with a crash after falling asleep. I thought that belonged in this thread -- how Hongkong people can fall asleep at the drop of a hat.

Think of the local bus services as flotation tanks for stressed-out hong-kongers. Pop them on a bus for more than ten minutes, and the reduced levels of stimulation will have those eyes closing. If it's happening to the person sitting next to you, you'll know it when you feel a growing weight against your shoulder as they slip deeper into sleep.

It's not just the buses either. Next time you're on the ferry to Macau, take a look around you about half way through the journey. The local people will be split 50-50 between snacking or sleeping, while the western visitors will almost all be reading...

-- The Paisley-fairy: When Chinese ladies get to a certain age (I'm not sure exactly when, but I'd guess around 65), the paisley fairy visits them in their dreams and sprinkles paisley dust on their pillow. They awake with a sudden realisation that there are few patterns as magical, and head off to the shops to buy a neat little two-piece paisley suit.

-- Piano Practice: if you leave your windows open, it won't be long before you'll hear children in the surrounding flats start their music practice. Piano's the favourite, but there are also a couple of scratchy violins nearby and for a bit of variety we've got a doleful french horn started up recently. It can be tough to start with while they murder the same song over and over, but in our last flat the student in the flat above got so good I looked forward to their practice time.

-- The secretary's desk that is decorated with photos of themselves (not themselves and friends.... just themselves). There's probably one in their purse too for good measure. Does it help find your desk first thing in the morning ? (Open purse, compare photo to desk photo -- durn, wrong desk again...)

-- On the photo theme there's also the V-for-victory sign that pops up in every photo. I'm curious to see how long it will be before BabyB starts doing that.


Mr T adds:

-- The smell of a Chinese temple: 50% burning joss sticks/incense, 25% dust, 20% jasmine and other flowers, and 5% sweaty temple attendant.

-- The English names! Just one example: at work I once had an email from a colleague named 'Brenther' who was handing over her duties to 'Czarina'!

-- Going out to a low-end local eating establishment that does variations on western food, i.e. a 'restaurant' in the local parlance, and always having to choose between the 'red soup' and the 'white soup' as your first course. By the way, if you're new to this eating style, ALWAYS choose the red soup. The white soup is usually just flour, water and MSG. If you're lucky, you get a couple of kernels of canned corn or maybe a shred of fake crab meat. The red soup is usually some variation of vegetable soup or borscht that is guaranteed to reacquaint you with the vintage vegetables from days gone by.

-- Is it only me, or has anyone else noticed that almost all HK bike riders (except for the really really serious ones who wear the funny tight clothes) leave their seats at the lowest possible setting, thereby increasing to the maximum the angle their legs must assume while pedaling? This is both inefficient and uncomfortable, but this practice is so common here it's even repeated in the gym, on the exercise bikes!

-- The 'where are you' mobile phone conversation:

A: "Where are you?"

B: "I'm coming out of exit B3 from the MTR station, but I'm only about a third of the way up the escalator yet; no, wait, now that I've taken the time to make that utterly inane statement, I'm at least halfway up; scratch that, my feet are now being ground to bloody shreds by the grille at the top of the escalator since I'm incapable of talking on my phone while effectively coordinating my lower appendages . . . . "

-- And speaking of mobile phones, how about those moments in certain HK clubs that ban the use of mobile phones, in which you, a lowly guest, have forgotten to turn off your phone, only of course to have it ring as the patrons, staff, and no doubt the very universe itself frown as you fumble to turn it off?


Batgung Readers add:

-- eating with your mouth open, spitting bones on the tablecloth, then daintily covering your mouth while the serious toothpick excavations go on

-- Wet markets where the local produce is killed or sliced and diced in front of you. Also, you try to hand over the exact amount in cash since the fishmonger and butcher like to return notes with a generous smattering of water or blood.

-- Minibus drivers who drive as if they took driving lessons via their Nintendo Gameboy.

-- Harbour Fireworks celebrations and 100K people saying "WAAAAAAHHHHH!!!" in unison.

-- Beauty Pagents where the MCs take the time to take the piss out of the contestants (Especially if their Cantonese isn't great). Of course, if you win you might begin a career in TV or end up a rich businessman's trophy girlfriend or wife.

-- Smelly Bean Curd...no need to explain. But thankfully, a rarity now.

-- Tabloid papers with the murder/accident pictures on the front page. I'm talking real close-ups here!

-- Best designed airport in the region.

-- RedBean doughnuts! Not JAM as I would have expected.

-- Tai Chi OAPs who can bend and stretch better than me.

-- waving goodbye by opening/closing your hand like having a handpuppet on it (hard to describe)

-- not drinking the tea in restaurants but washing your chopsticks in it

-- your waiter is smoking while serving you

-- never opening or holding doors in public places (as if they're contaminated),instead waiting until someone else holds it for you and then slipping thru

-- starting almost every sentence with 'so' or 'actually'

-- 'value added' services

-- the inability to use a tissue despite the fact they are given away

-- the deification of Hello Kitty, CK Siu, Boding Gau, et al.

-- fantastic fung Jau (chickens feet)

-- being lucky enough to have a spare seat next to you on a bus (if you are a westerner)

-- the great taxis

-- janitors, doormen and security guards who are happy, smiling and helpful

-- Mongkok

-- wearing a scarf and ear muffs when it's 20 degrees celsius

-- Arriving at Hong Kong airport and feeling like a transit tourist because you still have to travel a lot more before you reach Hong Kong!

-- Trying to enter MTR/KCR trains [subway trains] when everyone inside the compartment has decided to stand in the doorway and block your entry [despite there being ample space down the aisles]!

-- Wondering why the place is called "Asia's World City" when the stupid cabbie [Taxi driver] does not understand a word of your English instructions?!?

-- Balancing yourself in a break dance when the public transport bus driver has decided to stop or start *suddenly* [just when you are heading for the stairs (double decker) or the door].

-- Trying to enter or exit a carpark entrance where you doubt that the narrow passage way is *deliberately* designed to scratch or bump your car!

-- Focusing like a pilot while navigating your trolley [cart] through narrow and crowded super market aisles. While at the same time being careful that you do not injure the baby piled on top of the groceries in a trolley [cart] coming from the opposite direction...

-- Hailing a taxi using a really limp wrist action. Don't knock it . . . it does work!!

-- Junk trips . . . love em!

-- Dai Pai Dongs . . . the food is cheap and tasty. Though be sure you have a cast iron gut or kill the germs with plenty of beer.

-- Hong Kong Action films, especially using handguns which don't seem to run out of bullets

-- MTR sprint challenges. Go to North Point MTR and watch the people run from train to train as they interchange trains. At least you can exercise while using public transport!


One reader, Stephen Frost, sent in a particuarly thematic set of items. He noted: We're apartment hunting, so I'm obsessed with real estate and associated themes:

-- Knowing the size of your apartment to the nearest five square feet.

-- Knowing the size of everyone else's apartment to the nearest five square feet.

-- Standing on tiptoe, body bent into a right angle between the kitchen sink and fridge, to catch a glimpse of a two-inch sliver of Victoria Harbour between forty storey buildings and thinking you have 'ocean views'.

-- 940 square feet in Lam Tin for HK$2.5 million seems reasonable.

-- Real estate agents ringing you at 11.00pm.

-- Looking at the 'last transaction price' for an apartment and really getting what the Asian crash meant ($8.8 million in mid-1997 now going for $4.0 in 2003).

-- Having to add on at least $200,000 to any property price for renovation (almost mandatory). Most apartments will be gutted and refitted by new owners.

-- Serious discussions over how much space can be gained for the living room by closing in a balcony that anywhere else would house a few dead pot plants at best.

-- Thinking that anything past HKU on Pokfulam Road is the outback (when it only takes 20 minutes by mini-bus to get to Central).

-- The impossibility of securing a mortgage on a building over 20 years old for a decent repayment period. Banks expect loans for older buildings to be paid back in about two years rather than twenty.

-- Old buildings are way more efficient (if the advertisement says 1500 square feet it will probably be around 90 per cent efficient). New buildings have rooms shaped like things my daughter makes out of play dough, doors that hit the toilet seat and thus don't allow residents into the bathroom, and a single pool to cater for the population of 2,000 apartments in 12 towers. An 850 square foot apartment will probably be more like 550 of actual floor space.

-- Names like "Elite Tower" and "Tycoon Court" sound strangely appealing.

-- Rooftops with illegal structures. Every rooftop...

-- "Chinese building" means "no lift".

-- Walking from apartment to apartment with your real estate agent rather than driving, taking a taxi, or catching buses.

-- Not being surprised that the swimming pool in your building is about the size of a large bathtub and it's closed from September to May anyway because "it's too cold too swim then" (i.e. it's under 25 degrees C!) and then they close it at 8pm, so you have almost no chance to have a swim after a long day at work.


And more readers add:

-- Knowing that cheese is a strange and exotic foodstuff and you have to pay a fortune for it.

-- A place where MTR commuters extend their feet while sitting even when the train is crowded so that no one can stand in front of them.

-- A place where MSG (Mono Sodium Glutomate) is cheaper than salt, so many restaurants use it as a salt replacement.

-- [A place where people] believe a landscape of buildings erected like male organs, instead of mountains and sea, is what it takes to build a world class city that attracts tourists.

-- Cockroaches (the locals call them "little Keungs") crawling around your table and feet while you are eating in a fast food mall at night.

-- People talking on their mobile phones for at least 10-20 minutes.

-- When one phone rings on the MTR, about half the people check if it's their phone ringing.

-- Extremely silly ringtones which try to emulate a theme song, e.g. the one from Enter the Dragon.

-- Modified cars -- especially vans or those "space wagons" i.e Tarago-types vehicles which can carry more than 5 people.

-- Taxis with either yellow, blue or red mudflaps.

-- Octopus ("bat dat tong" or "doot" in cantonese)

-- Similar to the "doot" above :
"ding", to cook something in a microwave
"ding-ding", a Tram

-- Highest concentration of SevenElevens per square kilometer in the world!!! Where I lived we had four of them in the same street.

-- Evolution of napkins in the cheaper restaurants:

First, napkins were given for free along with each meal...

Then, to cut costs, napkins were no longer provided. Customers were expected to bring their own napkins or tissues...

Finally, a later generation of restaurant owners started noticing that customers would often forget to bring their tissues to the restaurant. As a great extra service to their customers, tissue packs can now be purchased directly at the restaurant!

HK business sense at its best! :D

-- Playing dodgems with real estate agents as you drive into a shopping centre to do some shopping which happens to have show flat inside.

-- Thinking that going camping requires renting a flat on an outlying island

-- Believing that any place without street lighting is unnatural

-- Thinking that a church is a more likely place to meet a boyfriend or girlfriend than any where else.

-- Lining up for 3 hours for an hour to eat yum cha on Sundays

-- People who wash their chopsticks because they're dirty and then stick their fingers up their noses whilst they're chatting with you.

-- Never being more than an hour's travel away from anybody in Hong Kong. No excuse not to catch up with family and friends!

-- Paying less than HK$3 to commute on one of the world's most famous and most scenic forms of public transport, the Star Ferry.

-- The dedicated, block-long queues outside McDonalds for people wanting to buy Happy Meals to collect the Snoopy/Disney toys.

-- The amazing crowd control that is the HK-Shenzhen immigration check-point at Lo Wu MTR. I wouldn't attempt going through this by yourself for the first time though ... it's quite a shock to see 100s of people pouring out of the trains, sprinting to be first in the queue and crammed into the confined immigration area. It felt more like a refugee escape route ...

-- Word of mouth about new restaurants/cafes/shops/bars/clubs that spread faster than in any other place.

-- Being able to use your mobile on the MTR-- what a miracle! Coming back to London for a visit, I couldn't even call my friend to let her know that I would be late as the Circle line underground train had broken down.

-- Chinese barbeques where you each get your own exceedingly long barbeque fork with which you use to cook your own food, instead of having one nominated "chef" who slaves over the grill cooking for everyone.

-- Men who slide into their MTR seats and hide behind their newspapers to pretend not to notice the tired granny/grandpa/heavily pregnant lady who is standing right next to them without a seat.

-- Young Chinese men who help to carry their girlfriend's handbags ... by wearing it on their shoulders. Yes, the Christian Dior saddlebag was quite last season, Sir.

-- Going to a restaurant/cafe and having to share a table ("daap toy") with two other couples that you don't know, who don't exchange a single word with each other during the entire meal.

-- Being able to check out the dimsum on the trollies before ordering.

-- Shouting "My stop!" on the minibuses -- and getting a practically door-to-door service.

-- Catching hypothermia in the cinema theatres. Why does the air conditioning always feel like it's on zero degrees?

-- getting your eardrums ruptured by someone "chatting" next to you.

-- the person sitting near you who decides to give everyone a 5 minute demo of all their ringtones on maximum volume.

-- people (normally young males) who slap their malboro cig packets

-- the indescribable smell wafting up from the sewers

-- lots of men reading comics

-- neighbours who play mahjong 24 hrs a day for 3 days straight.


Reader David Vesely contributes a list with a Thai twist:

“Specialist streets” which encompass the entire variety of one product – ie. Sports shoes street, fish street, flower market, bird market, building materials, computer buildings, mobile phone buildings…

Walking down a quiet street and hearing a mahjong game in the distance.

Hearing “oh you are so smart,” or “your Chinese is so good” ten times a day. You would never hear someone in your home country saying this to a foreigner!

Live fish “killed to order” at any local market.

Special prices after 9:00 in almost any local restaurant, and “bargain configurations” on top of that (8 cans of Chinese beer for $11 etc.).

In-laws who first say “lei ho fei! (you’re so fat!)” but then say “sic a sic a sic a! (eat eat eat!)” and keep piling food on your plate.

Extreme indulgence followed by extreme guilt – crispy pig skin or fish skin, shark’s fin soup with crab roe fat, soft fatty pork, extra crispy chicken…

The cheapest and fastest Internet service in the world.

Gas cooking (as opposed to electric) standard (as opposed to very rare) in all homes.

Having a bigger flat with more character at 50% less than the tiny ones in the new building next door.

Having a conversation in English, Cantonese and Mandarin at your dinner table is perfectly normal.

Having a maid who works 6 days a week, speaks excellent English and Cantonese, can make anything from curtains to children’s clothes, who stays for the exact period of the contract, who cooks amazing exotic food (Thai, Malay, Indonesian…), always has a cheerful disposition, and is entirely grateful to be paid less than a part-time babysitter back home!

Buying a second hand Jag for $20,000 and paying $400,000 for a car park spot.

Going to any major city in your home country and being annoyed that everyone is so slow.

Engaging in Cantonese conversation with other Hong Kongers when traveling abroad; feeling like you’re “back home” when you hear Cantonese as one of the languages on the flight back.

Your brain does auto-translation when the person you are talking to constantly uses the incorrect gender when referring to someone else… and in the back of your mind thinking this is perfectly fine because they mean “keui.”

Having a flat so small that visiting relatives/friends of friends/friends of your mother MUST stay in a hotel (= relief!).

All of your suits are tailor-made.

--And a few from the year I spent as an expat in Bangkok:

Taking a motorcycle taxi to speed across stopped traffic in minutes.

Going to a beautiful restaurant and paying 13 Pence (10 baht) for a main dish and 7P for a bowl of rice that goes with it.

Taking a limousine to a city 120 miles away for £ 13

Your “breakfast” has more chilies than the spiciest curry back home.

Fresh green peppercorns still on the branch, the most beautiful cuts of beef in the world (Thai-French)

Seeing your receptionist wai with a beautiful sincere smile every morning when you go to the office every morning.

Hearing all the wonderful excuses why your staff can’t make it to work (“my family’s only water buffalo just died,” six grandmothers dying six weeks in a row…).

Having to pay farang price for everything until you learn Thai.

Going to work in the morning with an industrial-strength hangover and having the taxi driver belch and fart pure raw garlic, stuck in a traffic jam, for 2 hours, with barely-working aircon, and it’s 38° and pouring rain so you can’t open the windows, and the radio is playing full blast, through the world’s cheapest speakers, with a Thai language talk show!

Seeing a 50 year old man with a belly the size of 3 watermelons holding hands with a 15 year old child; knowing that he will cruelly mistreat that him/her… and try to pay them as little as possible after, and he/she has to smile the whole time and pretend that the old bugger looks like Brad Pitt’s twin and his conversation is absolutely scintillating.

Having local friends over for dinner and finding footprints on your toilet seat. Especially after a business dinner!

The look of shock and then deep respect from Thai business guests when they realize that you are personally going to cook and serve their dinner for them.

Having a travel agent completely screw up your long awaited holiday, then tell you in complete confidence that “it’s no problem…” …knowing that showing your anger would be very “un-Thai,” and that in fact you are not allowed to bash their head in with the stapler on their desk, which just happens to be conveniently within reach.

Renting a penthouse in a beautiful and convenient location for the price of a carpark in Hong Kong.

The floods!

Knowing that major public holidays (Loy Krathong, Sonkran) last for over a fortnight.

Wondering if the young girls screaming in a winy voice “hello welcome” actually think that men find that sexy.

During your first week in Thailand, having a drag queen show up for a job interview for the receptionist position. And s/he uses “kaa” (female form) in every sentence.

After 2 months in Thailand, going to the supermarket, food court, 7-11, and being served by a drag queen, and thinking that this is a perfectly normal part of your daily life.

Feeling that it is perfectly normal for the Thai government to take 6 months to approve, after much trouble, your company registration… when you work for a NASDAQ-traded company and are about to create high-paying jobs for 25 locals.

Having a pair of hand-made dress shoes tailor-made for less than the cost of a pair of trainers back home.

The nicknames you hear when meeting clients:

“Hi, my name is Pee.”

A man whose name is Lek (this means small in Thai).

The country manager of a major IT multinational is a woman named Gogo… and she looks like a supermodel… and you are trying to negociate a huge contract with them, but you continually have to stop and give the textbook definition for simple business terminology.

The feeling of absolute relief, utter elation and joy, when you learn that you are definitely going to be moved back to civilization (Hong Kong!).


-- those market stalls with

-- those market stalls with strings of super-extra-padded bras. (Ladies, remember the saying that you shouldn't go making a mountain out of a molehill)

Don't think of them as super-extra-padded bras, think of them as personal airbags. :)

padded bras

moan and groan, winch and stir. Why don't you just shut your foul mouth(must be foul after so much bad mouthing) and enjoy HK. There is plenty to say about NY and London, but people mind their own business. Surely you people must realize that you're making a fool out of yourself. Or maybe you don't realize.....pityful then


Wow Erwin....there's a huge difference between noting the idiosyncrasies of where we live, and putting the place down

I'm pretty sure that all we have been doing is remarking on the former and none of us have been doing the latter...I for one LOVE my home but some of these things are what makes it so unique

chill dude!!!

The deep withdrawal symptoms

The deep withdrawal symptoms from real Chinese food when one goes back home to the UK/US/Oz/South Africa/Cameroon/etc.

You can learn the art of

You can learn the art of Chinese cooking or befriend the local takeaway chef and tell them you want/love the proper Chinese food they eat at home and not the crap they serve to local...


I seem to have brought home some HongKongness...

Today, I went to a Chinese restaurant for dinner here in the States, the first one since my trip to HK last year.  I was wondering why no one was washing the cups, plates and utensils...

How did this habit start?  I once saw in a hotel restaurant the staff doing the same dishwashing for their lunch break.

re: dishwashing

I think it started when restaurants weren't so clean, and you wanted a fighting chance of eating with a clean set of utensils. Most places we eat today it's not needed, some places I think we do it out of habit, and some where it's definitely needed. Usually somwehere we haven't been before, and either the crockery looks like their might be an oily film, or there's a smell of bleach from their washing up.

It wouldn't fill me with confidence if the restaurant staff don't trust the crockery to be clean. Definitely add that one to the "must wash" list!