Taiwanese artist's satirical cartoons about Hong Kong life are an online hit

A Hong Kong-based Taiwanese artist's satirical cartoons about Hong Kong life have become a viral hit, writes Andrea Chen

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 December, 2013, 6:05pm
UPDATED : Monday, 09 December, 2013, 8:10pm

Taiwanese comic artist Chris Tseng Hsin-chieh and his Hong Kong friend Juno Man Chun-lun set up a Facebook page three months ago just for their own amusement. But then the satirical, and often hilarious, strips they posted on went viral. The observations Tseng, better known among his fans as Jiejie, made about cultural differences between Hong Kong and Taiwan were so spot- on, he has won a large following throughout the region.

The page "Jiejie Talks Non-stop", which features his Taiwan vs Hong Kong series, has more than 1.15 million views and 112,000 "likes" so far, and Tseng, a 28-year-old graphic designer, is set to release a book on his life early next year.

The whole phenomenon was born out of boredom.

"I [started] the page for him since we literally had nothing else to do," says Man, who worked in the same company as Tseng, before both - tired of the office life - left the company in September. The two spent unemployed days pottering about their cubical-like apartment in Kwun Tong until Man came up with the idea that Tseng should make use of his artistic talent and sense of humour to show his friends in Taiwan what it feels like to live in Hong Kong.

So Tseng started drawing about things that he found absurd about this city: how buses here run too close to the pavement curb, waitresses behave as if customers owe them money, private tutors package themselves as if they were celebrities, and cooking shows feature hosts who say gormless things like "the fish tastes like fish".

Giddens Ko Ching-teng, director of the 2011 blockbuster You are the Apple of My Eye, shared the strip featuring Hong Kong's arrogant waitresses on his Facebook, adding that he could not agree more with Tseng. "It's so true," Ko wrote in the comment. "Every time I order in Hong Kong I feel like a pupil who gave a wrong answer to an exam question."

One recent strip that highlights how Hongkongers are desperate to escape the city recorded more than 546,000 views in two weeks. His works are often shared on social media sites such as Twitter and Weibo. The newfound fame has led to Tseng being featured as one of the artists in the Christmas celebrations at Park Central, a shopping mall in Tseung Kwan O.

Tseng attributes part of his success to the fact that he is able to depict eccentric everyday scenarios in Hong Kong life that most Hongkongers have accepted as the norm: "They feel as if I can read their minds."

And though Tseng is not considered as prolific as other well-known online Taiwanese comic artists - he updates his Facebook page just once a day, because "it's easy to come up with an idea, but takes up to a few hours to write the lines for the characters" - his social and political commentaries capture the local zeitgeist. "The lines come to my mind when I watch the news, like the recent [television licensing] controversy."

His latest venture is a far cry from designing posters and booklets 12 hours a day for an insurance company in Kaohsiung, earning a monthly salary of HK$5,000. When Man introduced Tseng to a design job in Hong Kong that paid three times as much, the decision to move here was easy: "I could afford to save some money to give to my parents," recalls Tseng. The two had met through mutual friends in Taiwan in 2010.

Popular though he might be, even his fans find it a little odd that Tseng portrays himself as a half-naked otaku-style guy in his underpants with a perpetual nose bleed - a reference to the fact he has been ogling at too many women. "I'm just trying to make fun of myself. It's really not a big deal, making my self-portrait a little bit horny. And if you think about it, most of the female characters in comic books take off their clothes at some point to meet the fantasies of male readers. If the female body is 'consumed' to such an extent, why can't we consume the male body?"

Tseng finds Hong Kong "way more internationalised than Taiwan", and is much more conservative compared to his homeland.

He was surprised to read in the news that an art exhibition featuring sexually explicit photographs, which was held in Taiwan, had failed to make it to Hong Kong. But he is happy to find that his saucy self-portrait is becoming more and more acceptable on the internet.

"Most of his fans are, in fact, young girls," says Man. "And some in the comments have asked Jiejie [the character in the self-portrait] to take off his underwear."

But before doing "the full monty", Tseng says he still has hundreds of ideas up his sleeve for his Taiwan vs HK series, which he hopes will give much-needed comic relief to Hong Kong's hectic and stressful life.