If I haven’t made it obvious already, my perception of Hong Kong before coming here was extremely limited. But after traveling for 4 months throughout Europe prior to coming to Hong Kong, I had made a few expectations that I thought were obvious. After living here for almost 2 months, it is somewhat funny looking back on the few expectations I thought I had right. Mostly because I was wrong.
Expectation #1: Everyone in Hong Kong knows English, and I won’t need to know any Chinese.
Reality: This expectation was proved immediately wrong my first day in Hong Kong. We had to take a taxi from the airport to the university we are staying at and we really had no idea where to go once we were on the campus. We tried to explain this to the driver but he just shook his head and smiled, trying to tell us he couldn’t speak English. Hong Kong is an extremely bilingual place and a lot of people do know both Cantonese and English, but it is still extremely helpful to know a little bit of Cantonese for things like where the bathroom is, numbers, and saying thank you. Plus, it helps you blend in just a little bit.
Expectation #2: Everyone will obviously know that I am American because I am a white girl, with blonde hair, speaking English.
Reality: So very wrong. In fact, I have not encountered anyone that has outright guessed that I was only from the US. I have been asked if I am from Germany, the U.K., Italy, and Canada. I have been told repeatedly that I look very “European.” While on the MTR, which is the subway system in Hong Kong, an elderly man turned around, pointed at me, and simply said, “European or American?” I answered American and that was the end of our discussion. A man across the table from me at a restaurant guessed Canadian because he said I had no accent, although a Canadian woman that I work with here informed me that I do have an American accent. It has been interesting to say the least of listening to people guess where I’m from and I’m figuring out that I have much more physical ties to Europe than I realized.
Expectation #3: I should probably buy face masks once I’m there to avoid the pollution in the air and getting sick.
Reality: The smog and pollution that China is known for, or more particularly Beijing, are not present in Hong Kong. In fact Hong Kong is EXTREMELY clean. It seems that everywhere I go in public I constantly see things being swept, mopped, or wiped down. I even saw shelves in a mini-grocery store being dusted with makeup brushes once, such attention to detail. And people do wear face masks here, but only if they are actually sick. In other words, wearing one would signal to people that I was sick or had some type of cold, which is definitely not the message I want to give people.
Expectation #4: Everything will be extremely westernized and Americanized in Hong Kong.
Reality: Hong Kong is extremely westernized, but it has much more British tendencies than American, which makes complete sense given that it was a British colony for over 100 years. The English that is spoken on the MTR or in elevators has a British/English accent, and British terms such as “queue” (for forming a line), “rubbish” (for trash or garbage), and “give way” (yield for cars) are the words used for signs. Although these may not seem like huge differences, they were differences I did not expect because I did not realize Hong Kong’s significant history as a British colony and the lasting effects it still has here. Hong Kong has extremely close ties with the U.K. and many Hong Kong citizens have dual citizenship, which is able to be passed down to their children.
Expectation #5: Bubble tea is part of Asian culture.
Reality: This is mostly true. Bubble tea originates specifically from Taiwan, with all the major chains of bubble tea, such as Share Tea, TP Tea, Gong Cha, and Ten Ren Tea, are all based out of Taiwan. I’m in the wrong country and should have gone to Taiwan where bubble tea is $0.70 USD per drink, which is CRAZY cheap compared to US standards ($4-$6 USD per drink).