Hong Kong – they do things differently here (part 2)

Last week I started talking about some of the small differences that I notice between Hong Kong and Western cities. Here is Part 2 with a few more of those random little things that make Hong Kong so unique!

Helpers

A very large cultural difference here is the presence of helpers. Many people have a female live-in helper (usually Filipino) who will assist with cleaning, cooking and childcare. The Hong Kong government has rules about the employment of helpers such as that they have to live with you, they must eat the same food as you and they must be paid a fixed wage (set by the government). Sundays are the helpers’ day off and, having nothing to do in their employer’s apartment (or being unwelcome there), they will congregate on pretty much any open area of park, sitting out area or covered walkway where they sit socialising, taking photos and sometimes singing and dancing! It is certainly quite a sight, although it does mean that you will not be able to spend a quiet afternoon in a park on a Sunday.

N.B. I did not manage to get a photo of this yet, but I will add one (hopefully this weekend) – it has to be seen to be believed!

Sitting out areas

Whilst there are a fair number of parks in Hong Kong (many of which are very lovely), most of Hong Kong is very built up and it seems that the government has tried to alleviate the crush of buildings with regular sitting out areas. These areas may be nothing more than a few benches and some planters, however some also have more senior friendly additions, such as tables to play Chinese chess or equipment for the elderly to exercise on(!). So it seems that there are many reasons for these areas – they are certainly somewhere convenient to sit when you get a bit to hot to carry on walking and need a rest in summer, but I think they must be there to encourage the elderly to get out of their apartments and socialise a little. I can imagine that it must be quite hard for some to get to know people in the anonymous sprawl of apartment buildings here.

Scaffolding

I was really surprised to see that the scaffolding here is made from bamboo and not steel pipes which they use in the UK. It seems crazy to think that all the skyscrapers in Hong Kong were constructed around wooden scaffolding held together with cable ties, but that is exactly what has happened! It’s interesting to see the scaffolding go up – the workers don’t use ladders either but just shimmy up the scaffolding to the place they want to get to. I did see one guy sawing the bamboo to the length that he needed, so that’s one advantage of it.

Hong Kong bamboo scaffolding

I also like how this building has made use of the flexible nature of bamboo!

Bamboo scaffolding

Weather adaptations

The weather in Hong Kong consists of a fairly mild and dry winter followed by a very wet spring and a hot and humid summer, and I’ve noticed a few adaptations that the city has made for these conditions. For one, every building has air conditioning, and every form of transport will freeze you every time you get on it! Also, there are loads of overhead covered walkways which avoid the need to wait to cross busy hot (or wet) roads. There is also at least one step up into each underpass (subway) and MTR entrance, to reduce the risk of excessive rainwater running into the tunnels. I’m sure there are many more that I haven’t noticed yet, but I think they’re really interesting!

Hong Kong pedestrian walkway

Face masks

The sight of people walking around wearing face masks is a very Asian thing, and it looks very alien to Westerners visiting Asia for the first time. It looks very oppressive and forbidding, and on first viewing makes you think that the person wearing the face mask wants to keep the outside world out and keep their own air pure. In fact, it’s the opposite. In Hong Kong, you are encouraged to wear face masks if you have a cold or other respiratory infection that you could pass on to those around you. The masks are meant to prevent the spread of disease, something that Hong Kongers are very conscious of in the wake of the SARS epidemic which hit Hong Kong very hard. I really don’t like wearing them, they feel very stuffy, but I like to think that I would if I had a contagious infection since they are there for the protection of others.

Update: I knew there was one more but I forgot what it was! Now I have finally remembered :) (I blame baby brain) Here it is:

Using two hands

This is actually probably the first cultural difference that I noticed about Hong Kong: when people are giving or receiving business cards, money or bank cards, they do so with two hands. As far as I can tell, this is a very respectful thing to do in China. I am used to it now and most of the time I remember to do the same but sometimes I forget and someone will be presenting something to me with two hands and one of my hands will be full (e.g. holding my purse), which makes it very awkward to switch things around quickly so I can use both hands to take the proffered item! I find that in busier shops such as 7-Eleven (or ones with poor service) they often don’t bother, but a lot of the time they do so it’s good to be prepared!

So that’s my round-up of the differences that I’ve noticed. Do you have anything else to add? Or something that makes your own city very unique? I’d love to hear all about it!

Thanks for reading!

Rachel

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