I know that I can't consider myself a newcomer in Hong Kong anymore. But even though it’s been over a year, every day I feel like I discover something new.
For one thing, I learned that the word I thought meant “Excuse me”, was actually the word for “Miss”. So for the past year, I’ve been heckling so many people shouting “Miss!” at taxi drivers and waiters, who would approach me with reluctance and confusion – like who the heck is this girl. While I angrily wondered why I was being ignored and grumbled to myself about the lack of service manners in HK.
I also learned not to sit with my legs up in buses, well at least not on the second story. Most Hong Kong buses are double deckers, and it’s still a novelty for me to sit at the top, so I always do. Several times a week I have to ride for an hour to see one of my students, so I sit at the very front, which has a ledge that I can rest my legs on, usually with them spread out.
Not very ladylike I know, my mother would probably be shocked - but I figured HK bus etiquette was lax enough, and compared to the people cheerfully picking their various orifices or the ones loudly cutting their toenails – I thought I was ok. What I didn’t know was that I was sitting with my legs like that in front of the driver’s periscope. And probably in such a way that for the driver, the view of me would’ve blocked everything else in sight.
I’d noticed the mirror hanging on the ceilings before, but I’d never been able to figure out what it was for, just thought it was a bit useless. Apparently not.
So that I’m not just writing about my failures… I recently gained the courage to shop at the street market below the apartment.It might not sound like a big deal, but I was always too intimidated about shopping there. For one thing, the majority of the street carts don’t have any price tags, and so trying to decipher the price was always a minor ordeal for me. So for example, buying avocados.
Did the woman say $5 or $50 for 3? Or how much is one? And then she’d say to me, $1 or $100 or maybe $10. To me it all sounds so similar. And then trying to guess involves trying to remember how much was reasonable for avocados in the U.S., and then translating the price to HK., multiply by 8 – and then guessing the market price for what avocados should be in Hong Kong vs. the U.S., where are avocados grown anyway? South America? So more expensive in shipping? Or maybe South Asia? Or should I account for less demand?
It’s like playing Price is Right – helloo bob barker.
Inevitably, I’ll have confused myself, so I have to choose between looking obnoxious – paying for a $5 item with a large bill, or looking stupid – holding out my inadequate coins and smiling.
It also made trying to bargain an almost impossible task. “No! Not $40, I’ll pay $20!” I'll say with conviction. And then realizing that the original price was actually $8.”
But luckily, rather than taking advantage of the useless girl who can’t count, even when I pay them 10 times too much, the vendors always give me back change, and look at me sympathetically.
People from home have asked me what Hong Kong is like, and it’s difficult to describe. Just as I’d never imagined before what it could be like – it’s a place that’s a combination of things.
There are skyscrapers like New York and businessmen and women in suits. There’s buildings marked with name brands, luxury is King. Armani building, bulgari, chanel, LV, Gucci building, the name brands have it. There’s the alleyways with noodle shops and chefs in wife-beaters, sweating as they chop beef bones and sauce beheaded ducks.
It’s a port city, because there’s ocean on all sides, with harbors and construction ships, and it’s also like San Francisco with streets that look more like mountains because of how steep they are.
At night time there’s blocks and blocks of people drinking on the street, and the sound reminds me of London, with pub music blasting and the clinking of beer pints. While also at night, there’s the people who come out to push carts of trash, massive carts up and down the steep streets. It takes a lot of strength, and patience to navigate around the crowds of drunk people. And for some reason the majority of the cart pushers are old men whose faces look at least 60 – 70 years old, but have the body physique of the hulk or a ninja turtle. They work with their shirts tied to their six pack waists, and a cigarette sticking out of the corner of their mouth.
And even just on my street, where there’s a French bakery and boutiques with ridiculously overpriced brands– there’s also a street market with butcher carts and ceiling hooks of meat, and a print shop that smells of ink and blocked metal where a man makes name cards on rows and rows of paper sheets. There’s a 7-11, and next to it a man who sits in a chair in front of his shop, who’s so old his eyes barely open and he only has a couple of teeth left, who will squeeze fresh fruit juice for you.
There’s antique shops with only vases in the window, and several high end art galleries, where the art consists of a tv screen that shows blue tattooed belly buttons that breathe in sync. And also another gallery with a pornographic pig sculpture in the window, sucking its own strangely human boobs. (It is just as disturbing as it sounds).
Next to a kebab shop and a frozen yogurt place, there’s a small bakery on the corner, a hole in the wall without a door that sells trays and trays of egg custard tarts. The strangely bright yellow glazed kind that glow in metal tins. They look like little circles of sun resting in a plate of silver. All day, there is a line going into that shop to buy egg tarts. And for me, it all comes together on that corner outside the shop, the men in business suits, the school uniformed kids, the expats, the shirtless men who push trash – as they stand on the street corner, one hand in their pocket as they eat the bright yellow custard out of a tin.