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HK Magazine Archive

What Do I Need to Know to Survive in Hong Kong?

Memorize this compendium of answers to become a Hong Kong mastermind.

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 October, 2016, 3:19pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2016, 5:29pm

So, this is it then. I first came to HK Magazine long ago, back when answers to basic questions weren’t just a Google away. So for years I hung out at the back of HK Magazine, answering the questions that needed answering: Where can I get my photos framed in Hong Kong? Who can I get to repair my lamp? Who will fix my broken LP player? 

But with the rise of the internet, my services weren’t quite so relevant—and so for the last three years I changed tack, answering instead questions that Hongkongers never thought to ask about this wonderful, stunning, improbable city. You might have missed a few, but memorize these and you, too, can wow visitors with your apparent breadth of knowledge.

Where does Hong Kong get its name? “Fragrant Harbor” was the original name of Aberdeen, and westerners assumed it was the name of the whole island. 

Why use bamboo scaffolding? It’s cheap, fast-growing and has a phenomenal strength-to-weight ratio. It’s half the weight of steel, six times faster to put up and 12 times faster to take down. 

Who invented the egg puff? Shopkeepers trying to find something to do with their cracked eggs. 

What is correct lai see etiquette? $20 for your laundry lady, $50-100 for small children and building security, $100-200 for adults and family, $500 for the nephew you wish to bribe. Don’t give an unlucky sum with 4 in it. For weddings: $500-$1,000-plus, venue-dependent. Your lai see pays for the wedding banquet. Write your name on the back.

How did Kowloon get its name? The “nine dragons” are named for eight mountains and one fleeing boy-emperor. 

Why can’t I bring metallic balloons onto the MTR? In case they float into the overhead live power lines and short-circuit the system. 

Why is Happy Valley called Happy Valley? It was a malaria-raddled swamp that became a British Army camp—and then the city’s first cemetery. Army humor did the rest. 

Why are there no true debit cards? EPS and Octopus cover most of it… and banks love credit card interest. 

Why do all films have subtitles? So that the Shaw Brothers could make easy money in Southeast Asian markets as well as Hong Kong. 

How do you sing in a tonal language like Cantonese? You write the song to match tone and tune as closely as possible. Does not happen in Putonghua. 

What’s the history of the hotel minibar? Invented in 1974 in the Hong Kong Hilton, rapidly spread across the world. 

Why are so many Hong Kong buildings painted pink? It’s the cheapest shade of paint, so it’s used for public housing. 

What makes Hong Kong a global pioneer? We flush our toilets with seawater. 

How has Cantonese influenced English? “Long time no see,” “no can do,” “chop chop,” “ketchup.” 

Why did they build the Central–Mid-Levels Escalator? To relieve traffic. Everyone thought it was a white elephant but it now carries at least 85,000 people a day. 

Why do some taxi drivers have so many phones? They’re “Car Kings” running a network of discount taxis. 

Why is Spam on macaroni so popular? Spam came from the US as a cheap, plentiful source of protein after World War II. Also, it’s delicious. 

How do I get a photo framed in Hong Kong? JUST GOOGLE IT.

Thank you for reading, my friends. I hope that I’ve managed to put a little smart aleck, a little Know-It-All, in each and every one of you.