Conversations in Hong Kong often start like this: "Hey, it looks like you've gotten fatter!"

Just as Americans say, "How's it going?" and Brits muse about the weather, Hongkongers love to comment on other people's weight.

Coming back from the United States last summer after my first year of studying there, I had almost forgotten how, in Hong Kong, it's socially acceptable to call someone fat, label them a "fatty", and kick off a WhatsApp chat with pig emojis.

People I hadn't seen for a year would greet me not with questions about my travels, but what they perhaps thought was a ground-breaking observation: "Wow, you've gotten fatter."

Um, thanks?

If you must know, I don't like fries or fizzy black drinks, and I'd been running at least 80km a week, lifting weights, and had added squats, deadlifts and pull-ups to my training regimen, to put on some much needed muscle.

I came back to Hong Kong stronger, but all I could hear was fat, fat, fat.

There might be a cultural explanation; in Hong Kong fatness can still be a sign of wealth - having enough to eat, first of all, but also having the luxury to indulge.

"Have you eaten rice yet?" used to be a common conversation starter; a polite show of concern to ensure someone wasn't going hungry.

My theory is that this eating greeting has morphed into the fat one. The word "fat" has positive synonyms in Cantonese such as " fung mun" and " baau mun", meaning rich and full. Fat, there-fore, has connotations of being well-nourished.

Still, in modern times, this city undeniably idolises the dainty, stick-thin female physique, leaving me in doubt as to whether people mean I'm fung mun, or just fat, fat, fat.

Mary Hui