English usage in Hong Kong

The level of English is pretty high in Hong Kong. I hardly see any errors. This is very much unlike some of the ‘Chinglish’ I’ve seen on our brief forays into mainland China, where some of the English we’ve seen has been completely unintelligible.

However, the first time we started noticing some slightly unusual uses of English in Hong Kong was when we realised we were seeing the word ‘Shroff’ everywhere e.g.

Shroff sign

A little googling later and we found out that the word ‘shroff’ is an old colonial word from India, which means a banker or money changer (ref). I think the use in Hong Kong is more someone who takes a payment.

I was a little amused to see that it’s a verb too! This picture is taken from the Hong Kong business registration website:


Another time, I was going about my business in the Post Office when I saw this sign:


I was picking up a parcel at the time and got some very odd looks for taking the photo!

It appears that ‘philatelic’ relates to stamp collecting (ref), so I assume this is the counter where you pick up your special edition stamps that you have ordered!

I saw this information panel whilst walking through the Kowloon Walled City park:


‘Vicissitude’ means changing or fluctuating conditions (ref). This panel was part of a history of the Walled City so I suppose it related to changes in the city over time. I’m guessing that maybe there is a more common word of this type in Cantonese and the people who made the sign got their Cantonese-English dictionary out and found the most appropriate word in English. Which makes sense, it’s just a shame it’s a word most English people have never heard of…

This is another slightly quirky use of English, where it would never normally be written down:

Litter Cum Recycling Bin

These “litter cum recyclables collection bins” are everywhere, and do exactly what they say – they take both litter and recycling.

And finally, what I think is a very cute use of English:

Bus captain

Yes, in Hong Kong, the humble bus driver has been promoted to the bus captain! It definitely sounds much better :)

Have you seen any other unusual uses of English words in Hong Kong? Or elsewhere? I’d love to hear from you if you have!

Thanks for reading!


Hong Kong likes and dislikes – part 1

I’ve been living in Hong Kong for 3 months now and am starting to get to know the place and how it works. There are some things I love about the place, and there are some frustrating little niggles!

I’ll start with the dislikes first. This is a fairly light-hearted look at some of the things which annoy me!

1. Drips

Wherever I go, I seem to get dripped on! I’ve now learned to spot the small wet patches on the pavement and walk round them to try and avoid this. I’m sure that 99% of the time it’s just water leaking from air conditioning systems, but I really don’t want to know what it is the other 1% of the time…

2. Insect bites

This was really bad in summer. If I ever went outside without first covering myself in deet then I got covered in bites! And the worst ones blistered up into huge lumps that were bigger than the sun! Ok, I exaggerate, they were a couple of centimetres across though. Luckily, it’s not so bad at the moment. I like to think that I’m acclimatising but it’s more likely that there are just fewer biting insects around now that it’s cooler.

3. Walking past buses on a hot day

In the middle of summer, it’s sweltering here and just walking for a few minutes makes you sweaty. But just as you’re walking along, thinking about how hot it is and debating popping into the nearest 7Eleven where it’s air-conditioned, a bus stops right next to you and pumps even hotter air onto you! The people inside the bus are lovely and cool and you are stuck next to the air conditioning exhaust. Not fun.

4. Chopsticks

Tom and I love Chinese food, and there are so many varieties of it to try so we are having great fun here eating our way through Hong Kong. But some of the food is really hard to eat with chopsticks! One of Tom’s favourites is pork chop curry, but you are given one or two large pieces of meat in your curry which is really difficult to pick up! Or Gong Bao (Kung Po) chicken, which has peanuts in, is another meal that requires serious effort to eat.

5. Cantonese

I know it’s my fault for coming to a country which doesn’t use English words or even our alphabet (although luckily a lot of people do speak English here), but I really feel like I’m missing out on a certain aspect of Hong Kong life because I can’t speak or read Cantonese. I’m learning, but knowing how to say ‘here is my business card’ is only so useful. There are some adverts and restaurants which have only Chinese characters, so I have very little idea what they are selling! I’d better work a bit harder with my lessons…

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it. If there’s anyone local reading or if you’ve visited/lived here, what are your little niggles about Hong Kong? I’ll post my favourite things about this place next week!