Blowing Water

Taiwanese people may be nice, but Hongkongers are good at being real

The city’s industrious and adaptable people give it an edge over its Asian neighbours

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 May, 2018, 12:45pm
UPDATED : Monday, 28 May, 2018, 10:47pm

My Taiwanese cousin, Cizko, made a rather amusing but insightful observation about people in her native island and Hong Kong when I praised the politeness of people there compared with their counterparts in the city.

“People from Taiwan are really good at faking, while Hongkongers are really good at being real,” she said.

Let me explain. She was talking about Taiwanese people’s social behaviour in general; even though they might dislike you, they still try their best to put on the most courteous front to “fake” their friendliness because they believe it’s nice to be seen as nice.

In contrast, she said, Hongkongers might often appear to be rude but at least they don’t try to hide the fact they dislike you, instead insisting on being true to their inner feelings. That’s why she said Hongkongers are really good at being real.

It might seem like a backhanded compliment, but my cousin does have high admiration for Hong Kong. She has always been fascinated by the city and loves things here so much that she even changed the spelling of her surname “Kuo” to the Hong Kong English spelling of “Kwok”.

She told me she is not alone in her enthusiasm. Many of her Taiwanese friends follow a Facebook page called “The Old Hong Kong” (this is only a translation as the actual name is in Chinese) and other trending sites featuring the city.

For context’s sake, my family from my father’s side are of Taiwanese and Japanese descent and I still have many relatives living in Taiwan.

I know my cousin would have moved and lived in Hong Kong if not for our exorbitant rents. In downtown Taipei, a decent 550 sq ft one-bedroom apartment sets you back about HK$5,000 (US$637) and a two-bedroom flat measuring 900 sq ft costs about HK$10,000 per month. In Hong Kong, such living spaces would fetch at least four times those rates.

It’s little wonder so many Hongkongers have chosen to move to Taiwan.

According to Taiwan government data, there were more than 21,000 permanent residents from Hong Kong and Macau as of 2013. And in the 10 years ending in 2016, officials there granted permanent residency to 6,652 people from the cities.

Meanwhile, a Chinese University survey in September 2016 found nearly two in five Hongkongers said they would leave the city if given the chance, their most desired destination being Taiwan.

Hong Kong is not an unattractive city to live in per se. If you ask any Hongkonger, most would tell you they really love the city, but the main reason they would leave is the cost of living – namely, high rent, which ultimately affects one’s overall quality of life. These factors are well known.

Hongkongers are not ashamed of being true to themselves and have a “tell it like it is” attitude in life

What I want to focus on, however, is a fundamental reason the city is one of the world’s greatest, giving us an edge over many of our Asian neighbours: the people.

As my cousin put it, Hongkongers are not ashamed of being true to themselves and have a “tell it like it is” manner. Those unfamiliar with this kind of attitude can interpret it as rude and inconsiderate. But at heart, Hongkongers are industrious, adaptable and flexible.

What I most admire is our resourcefulness in surviving in ever-shrinking living spaces. We cram into unimaginably small spaces, innovating to make the experience comfortable. From mini apartments, to micro and nano apartments to now living pods, no one can do it in better style and humour than Hongkongers.

The city even cemented its legacy in the Oxford English Dictionary in 2014, when the entries “Hongkonger” and “Hong Kongese” were added as official words.

Last but certainly not least, another endearing characteristic of Hongkongers is our curiously conformist behaviour of queuing, to a point that it has become a citywide pastime.

We can line up for anything, anywhere and at any time.

Many years ago, I was walking past a bank in North Point and saw a long queue outside, way before its opening time of 9am. Curious, I asked an old lady what she was lining up for. She said she had no idea, but just in case the bank was offering some benefits or giving out freebies, she didn’t want to miss out, so there she was. I later learned it was for the initial public offering of internet company which was shaping up to be the hottest in Hong Kong’s IPO history in 2000.

Culture or living standards? Why it’s hard for Hong Kong to smile

When the venerable Tai Cheong bakery – famed for baking the favourite egg tarts of the last governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten – closed its doors in 2005, it drew queues that had waiting times of at least two hours. When the Post interviewed various people waiting in line, an elderly woman admitted she had no idea what the queue led to, but was more than willing to spare a couple of hours to find out.

That’s just one of a handful of perplexing but remarkable examples underscoring Hong Kong’s uniqueness. There is so much more to be proud of as a Hongkonger or as anyone calling the city home, even temporarily. And here’s one more tantalising analogy: it’s a place that’s as small as a meatball but, like this delicious food, you can’t or don’t want to live without it.

Luisa Tam is a senior editor at the Post