Hong Kong's 23 Most Strange Obsessions, Quirks and Addictions
From queues to cameras to superstitions and stairphobias, the city is full of curious and weird habits.
1. Tutor Time
You haven’t had a Hong Kong kid until they’ve been so overeducated that you’ve replaced all of the blood in their veins with knowledge and Grade 8 level piano skills. Between the extra tutors, the music lessons, the Kumon and the actual school work, it’s a wonder any of us ever became socially competent individuals.
2. Cartoon Comestibles
There’s Pikachu fried rice, Hello Kitty cafes, dishes themed after Gudetama, the slothful egg... The city loves its cartoon cuisine. Shame most of it isn’t very good.
3. Bone Town
Any delicious Hong Kong feast is bound to entail plenty of bones, from ribs to fish bones to all those complex little bits inside chickens’ feet. But where to put all that unwanted calcium? Spit it straight onto the table, obviously. If you’re very polite, you’ll put down a newspaper first so it’s easier to scoop up afterwards.
4. Giving Face
It’s true that face masks started nobly: They were donned during SARS to prevent the spread of the virus. But since then face masks have become a Hong Kong trademark, a unique symbol of the city. The reasons behind them are still noble: To wear a face mask to work says, “I’m sick and I don’t want you to catch what I have.” It’s courtesy. Now if only it was easy to breathe in them…
Hongkongers are amazing at always leaping onto the next food fad. From matcha to shaved ice to frankly weird uses for egg puffs, we’re going to be there in droves.
6. The Camera Eats First
No matter what. No matter if it’s haute cuisine or a plate of French toast. No matter how integral it is that you eat your food warm. Nope. Plan for 15 minutes of cooling cuisine, and the Michelin-starred chef weeping in the corner.
7. Weight For It
Weight is one of those things that Hongkongers are fundamentally unashamed to discuss openly. There is NOTHING more Hong Kong than greeting someone with a comment about their weight. “Wow! You’re thinner!” or “Wow! You’re fatter!” are both acceptable opening gambits, regardless of truth or self-consciousness. And nothing solves (or exacerbates) a body image problem faster than a meal with your Chinese aunties.
8. Queuing for EVERYTHING
We doubtless got it from the British, who have a longstanding love of queuing for stuff. But Hongkongers are fundamentally incapable of seeing a line of people and not joining the back of it, even if they’ve no idea what it’s for. Things the city has gone nuts over queuing for in the past include: Snoopy dolls, new bank notes, iPhones, cookies, sneakers, restaurants, bags of rice, milk powder, school places and limited edition stamps. And then of course, there’s the next-level queuing: Sending your grandmother or your helper to queue for you, until you swan in at the last moment to claim your undeserved prize.
We’ll never take the stairs when there’s a lift available, even if it’s just to scale a single story. What about all those six-floor walkups, you ask? They’re all rented to expats who dream of having a rooftop and haven’t thought about the sweaty, messy reality.
10. First Classed
Hongkongers absolutely need to come first. Top global IQ, freest economy, most densely populated island (well, second-most)—sure. But also pulling out before you when you’re just trying to get in lane, having to get the new gadget before you, having to be better than China at ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING… our competitive scramble to be top of the heap is a double-edged sword.
11. Oppa Hoppers
There’s no better way to chart the global waning of Japan and rise of its neighbor than the vicissitudes of Hong Kong tastes. Big in Hong Kong right now: Korean everything. Korean drama, Korean Fried Chicken, Korean pop, Korean makeup, Korean fashion, the Korean habit for putting cheese on/in everything and serving it with a tall cold beer… actually, we’re beginning to see the point now.
The alternative to toting around a DSLR is traveling for two hours to get to an impossibly beautiful deserted spot in the Northeastern New Territories, just to take a single Instagram photo before leaving. You can watch the Likes roll in on the East Rail on the way home.
13. Instant Gratification
Instant noodles aren’t just a convenient snack in a busy age. No, they’re a way of life. Are you the kind of baller who’ll pay extra for Nissin noodles over regular no-frills brands? Or are you more of a 7-Eleven noodle snacker? Either way, an instant noodle, slurped up almost as quickly, is a genuine joy.
14. SLR SAR
Pretty much literally every man in Hong Kong over the age of 16 has a DSLR, and takes it to unremarkable places to take unremarkable photos. Inexplicably, they all seem to have girlfriends who are willing to pose for them, too. Go figure.
15. Quarantine Procedures
Another legacy of SARS: regular disinfection of lift buttons. If we’re not all getting horrible communicable diseases from our shared use of public transport, we’re probably not getting them from a shared-use lift button. Then again, maybe it’s just all that disinfection that’s protecting us. Can you afford to take the chance?
16. Golden Oldies
The city has a crazily active elderly population. Take the wiry 70-year-olds springing like mountain up the Wilson Trail as you hyperventilate in the background. Or the grannies who walk backwards around the park, beating their cupped palms against themselves to boost circulation. We’re exhausted (and bruised) just watching.
17. White is Right
You always want what you can’t have. Westerners spend their days basking in UV rays for dark, tanned skin. Asians, on the other hand, are addicted to developing a translucent paleness. Helping them: mei bak (美白) “beautiful white” products, which act to remove melanin pigment from the skin. It’s getting to the point where you can barely buy cosmetics in Hong Kong which don’t bleach the skin in some way. Good if you’ve always wanted to be a clown: Not so great if you’re just trying to hide that hangover at work.
18. Spirit Levels
Even the most rational, level-headed Hongkonger will take the time to keep the spirits happy. Whether it’s burning paper money Gucci bags for our ancestors or leaving a bit of food out for the hungry ghosts, the general mantra is: better safe than sorry, right?
19. Plating Up
Who looks at their brand new luxury Toyota Alphard tycoonmobile and says, “I know what I need to make this purchase complete. A license plate that says something really super stupid”? Yet the city is full of vanity plates, from the bright yellow Ferrari with PIKACHU plates to Deborah Hung’s bright pink Bentley, license plate DEBORAH, to the Merc that simply says BANKER. But our favorite will always be the most simple and elegant of them all: the taxi that says TAXI. Mister cab driver, we salute you.
20. Brand Management
We love to recycle—in some cases. Just been to Watsons to pick up ointments for an unsexy skin condition? No worries. Drop your liniments in your carefully preserved Chanel paper bag and everyone will think you’re living the baller tai tai lifestyle.
21. Rad and Trad
Tradition matters, in very precise amounts. For example, going vegetarian on the first and 15th days of each month of the Chinese calendar, because... Well, tradition, right?
22. Model Problems
“This brand new phone? Oh, it’s pretty much identical to the last one I had. But it’s newer, so I HAD to have it.” And you wonder why the city’s second hand phone market is thriving...
23. Close Sesame
Hong Kong needs to talk about its lift etiquette. Repeatedly jabbing the “call lift” button does not, in fact, make it come faster. And slamming your finger as quickly as possible into the door close button, as three other people in your line of sight sprint for the lift, is NOT good manners.