Hong Kong suffers from a strange paradox. Although it is sold as “Asia World City” this concept being supported by a multimillion ad campaign, the uncomfortable reality is that the Chinese and “Gwailo” community live parallel to one another. Of course, interactions occur on a daily basis, at work, in life, but these are oddly unilateral. Hong Kong Chinese people usually master a fair level of English, but Caucasian foreigners, Gwailos are only able to babble a few “Ngh Goy” (please/thank you) and “Maii Dann” ( the bill please). We are far from a being a true melting pot and the magic that van be felt in Rio or New York does not happen here. However, Hong Kong is commercial and financial hub ( well whatever finance is left these days), an essential cross Asian point of passage. Why and how has this situation developed ?
To understand this paradox, one must go back to History, and focus on Context and culture. I have a lot of respect for Chinese Culture and my interest for to is vast and relentless. I see It as giant jigsaw puzzle ( containing over 5000 pcs) and I strive to understand it better everyday. It is a true challenge and investigating it will probably take until the end my brief passage on earth . However one must admit that a History that has been fed with isolationism for centuries, has created a certain ethnocentricity. Add to this a few humiliating defeats , a century of colonialism (bringing its clash of civilization) and we have here a situation that even today does not invite dialogue and true mutual understanding.
Then one has to understand the transitory nature of Hong Kong. Gwailos pass by Hong Kong and only a minority ( yours truly is one of them) choose to make the fragrant harbor their true home. Missions are often short term and few are the Expats that stay here longer than ten years. Expats consider themselves too busy with their High profile missions. Time is usually short in Hk and PDA’s are essential tools of life management. When people have a few hours of free time, they’d rather spend it wot their family or with people of their own culture. High profile ghettos do exist, hermetic islands of NON-Hong Kong where it is quite possible to simply forget the seven millions of Chinese citizens are just “over there”.
Then , there is no escaping the fact that Cantonese is a tonal, colloquial, truly hard to learn mess of language, that is full of slang. Sounds in this Chinese Dialect are so far from our linguistic habits, that we often have the sensation of a constant, loud hubbub , that very often is irritating to the uninitiated. Chinese people cultivate this difficulty for the simple reason that it is hard to learn for them too! However, they start from childhood, we don’t.
Last but not least, one must admit to a rather inglorious fact: reception, in HK, this compact and ultra liberal town where everyone is engaged in the “Rat Race” is a little lacking. Welcoming guests, having good manners and flashing smiles was the subject of an ad campaign featuring starts such as Andy Lau Tat Wah). This is also due to the fact that Hong Kong people can be shy and are very afraid of losing face because they often lack confidence in their English. Anyway, we French people do suffer from a very bad, often deserved bad reputation too ( The “ignoring you rude cafe waiter” is a favorite, hey!) and let us remind all our English native speaking friends that, language dominance does not mean that you should not make an effort to speak the local language.
So , what is to be done? Yes, the situation is rather unjust, and yes, to unveil the secrets of the fragrant harbor is a challenge. But, we are just passers by in a foreign land and it is normal that we should learn the local cultural habits and dialect, if we are to enrich our daily experience, that is. Then, by making the first step , by engaging “The Other” by rubbing our ears to a language that, because of its tonality is very musical, we will be able to open the doors of a fascinating world and become people that can bring together extremes. Can we change? Yes, we can!