More little things in Hong Kong we could do without

Having completed our 'Hong Kong loves' lists, it follows naturally that we batgung must consider the polar opposite: the things we hate about Hong Kong. Mr B did his list a while back, so it's time I got to mine.

I must preface my list, for the sake of recent expatriate arrivals, by mentioning that if you had asked me 10 years ago to name the things I hated most about Hong Kong, it would have started with August at #1, July at #2, and June at #3, with May and September figuring in there somewhere, too.

That has changed. Whether through a reconfiguration of body chemistry, or maybe a new appreciation of the way in which the Hong Kong summer defies the inevitable entropy of the universe, I don't mind the summers here nearly as much as I used to.

But there are still lots of things I don't much like:

The pollution. The harbor stinks and is essentially untouchable. Relatively frequent days with pristine air during the summers only highlight how murky the air is much of the rest of the year. The country parks are full of rubbish left on the ground by thoughtless BBQing bastards. And so on. Okay, got that one out of my system.

Umbrellas in my eyeballs. When I decided to call myself Mr Tall here on, I wasn't engaging in wishful thinking. I'm really quite tall, and seem more so here in Hong Kong, of course. This means that on rainy days I'm liable to getting smacked about the head and neck by the umbrellas of those who are less vertically gifted (i.e., nearly everyone else). Hong Kong's overcrowded sidewalks exacerbate this problem, as does the HK penchant for keeping umbrellas open in covered walkways, pedestrian flyovers, and other confined spaces. Ironically, it's often the most well-meaning people who end up jabbing me the hardest: my head is so far above their umbrellas that when they instinctively lift them as we pass, I receive a highly dangerous, if unintended, uppercut. This umbrella complaint is in fact a cliché amongst HK expats, but cliché or not, remember it's all a joke until someone (especially me!) gets an eye poked out!

Hongklaustrophobia. This condition is characterized by the sudden onset of the uncontrollable urge to set off on a road trip across the emptiest, most God-forsaken stretch of dirt on the planet. Sometimes Hong Kong's small size, extreme population density, and closed border with the rest of China just start getting to you. Hongklaustrophobia inevitably strikes me at a point at which it's impossible to take a holiday.

The overactive government. This is a theme that's threatening to become repetitive for me, but Hong Kong is nowhere near as 'free' as it's depicted in the international press. The heavy hand of government is everywhere: the property market is rigged, there's no right to bear arms (it's virtually impossible to own a gun of any sort), freedom of speech is okay-but-iffy, public transport and utility companies are near-monopolies, and crushing taxes are levied on alcoholic beverages -- what more proof (sorry, intended) do you need?

The stench of improperly dried laundry. As I've described, most Hong Kong flats don't have space for a clothes dryer, much less a real laundry room, so people hang out their just-washed clothes wherever they can. This doesn't always work so well, in terms of actually getting them to dry out, especially in Hong Kong's humid springtime and summer months. The result is an instantly-recognizable and quite horrible stench. I've been a culprit myself. The problem is, you don't notice this smell right away; it only emerges once you're wearing the clothing in question and have body-heated it up a bit. By then you're usually on the way to work, and unwittingly engaged in making the lives of everyone in your MTR carriage a little less pleasant.

Bus window grease spots. I like riding the public buses in Hong Kong, but I have a raving phobia about the hideous smears of hair oil left behind by inadequately-washed people who fall asleep and let their filthy heads bounce and grind against the bus windows. And then it's even worse -- almost nauseating -- to see someone else come along and fall asleep right on top of one of these grease patches. I'm shivering just thinking about it!

And, speaking of public buses . . .

Cute girls never want to sit next to me. Nor do girls of any sort, really, except for the exquisite and saintly Mrs Tall. What I'm trying to say is, when I'm on a bus minus Mrs Tall, I usually am polite and take a seat next to a window so that the aisle seat is easily accessible for someone else. Yet I've noticed that this seat next to me usually stays vacant until the bus is almost full. Maybe this is due to my general hairy repulsiveness; maybe it's because I'm so large I seem to take up more than my share of space (even though I try really hard to keep squashed into just one seat). No matter the reason, I've found that there are only three kinds of people who willingly sit by me:

  • Old men. The most likely seatmate for Mr Tall is a 60-something man in vest. This gentleman usually eyes me sideways, just itching for the moment I vacate the window seat so he can get over there, nod off, and get to work putting up some new grease spots.
  • Schoolboys. I get two subtypes here. First there's the 8-year-old boy who sits down next to the giant gwailouh and just stares until he remembers he has his GameBoy with him, which he then proceeds to play at full volume. Then there's the pack of teenaged boys -- often it's the soccer team, right after practice -- who occupy all the empty seats around me, immersing me in a cloud of hormone-infused sweat odor and high-decibel, low-thought, secondary-school-boy banter . . . I start dreaming of ice picks I can ram into my ears . . . .
  • Insane persons. I'm not kidding about this. I have numerous experiences with obviously disturbed people -- ranging from an ancient raggedy woman to a very very very angry young man to a genial but demented codger -- all making a beeline to the seat next to me, and then proceeding to rave right into my face. At one point a few years ago, the same guy (the angry young man, specifically) got on the bus I took to work several days in a row, and found me every time. It happened so regularly it became a standing joke amongst the other regular commuters.

Fat boys. This is the flip side of Mr B's hate of over-slimming amongst Hong Kong women. One thing I also really appreciated when I first moved to Hong Kong was how normal people looked in terms of body shape and size. Traditional Cantonese cuisine provides a very healthy diet, and it showed. But now Hong Kong seems to have absorbed some of the food-and-health extremes so common in western countries. I was thinking the other day: when was the last time I saw a 10-year-old Hong Kong boy who wasn't a wobbly little butterball, fattened up like a veal calf by his overzealous mommy', and by confinement in school and in front of TV and computer?

The two tallest buildings in town. I was saddened some years ago when the crashingly banal Central Plaza in Wanchai surpassed the nasty-but-elegant Bank of China Building. And now it's been topped in turn by the nose-hair trimmer of the gods, i.e. the IFC2 tower, which is just plain nasty.

August. Okay, okay, I massaged the truth a little bit at the beginning of this article. Just ask Mrs Tall on oh, let's say, next August 19th if I've been complaining about the weather that day. Freddie predicts there's a 100% chance I will have been!


thank you

Mr Tall-
My sister and I just had a frustating, eye ball smacking kind of day resulting in a bad case of Hongklaustrophobia. Your article left us dying of (loud) laughter in the lobby of the Regal HK hotel in Causeway and we just want to thank you for your side splitting Hong Kong hate list, you hit everything on the mark. And for the record Mr. Tall we would happily squash in next to you on the bus any day.

Weapons in Hong Kong

No right to bare arms? I thought everyone over there wore t-shirts! :P Seriously though, I don't really see the problem in not being able to own a gun. Here in the UK we are not allowed to carry weapons and, to be honest, there isn't really any reason why we should. How many incidents per year are there of people getting shot? Frankly I'd feel less secure, not more, knowing that other citizens were allowed to carry a gun.


who needs guns when you can have the tried and trusty (and sometimes rusty!) chopper. Best friends with the barbeque meat slicing guys and gals, the handy triad henchman and of course the mad bad psycho husband and/or wife who decides to give the old spouse a bit of a chop one day because they were arguing over whose turn it is to leave the kids at home alone.


The rights to bear arms is an old and antiquated American obsession. At one time it was necessary for settlers to protect themselves from agressors including hostile natives and the bad and imperialistic English. The excuse today is sports and citizens not trusting their government - remember Waco Texas?
A look at all the countries around the world and one will see that except for soldiers and law-enforcement personnel, guns are not needed for democracy and freedom but bring more misery than joy.
Once you relax gun laws, the individual and societal life-style change forever.


And the ever prevalent BO. My only complaints really. And the humidity. And possibly a couple others....

da guns

Yea I remember Waco. The GOD/STATE decided they were gonna do what ever they wanted to do. Those people weren't a harm to anybody.

 Guns are not needed for freedom? you have clearly never been truly free. You only think you are. If you trust men with badges and gun to protect your "democracy" and "freedom" than you wont have either. The second amendment was put number 2 for a damn good reason. To defend the Republic from its government. Ask Germany and the old Soviet Union what gun control lead to.

Government loves you....keep drinking it.



who needs a gun? we have kung-fu and wi-fi. learn martial arts within minutes thru youtube.