Hong Kong

My seven years in a Hong Kong girls’ school (Part 1 of 2)

After spending nine years in a co-ed kindergarten and primary school, I faced the first crossroads in life. I had to choose which secondary school I was going to, and my mom couldn’t care less about it. I was never a straight-A student, but my grades were good enough for her not to worry about me. Knowing that I shouldn’t expect too much from a laissez-faire mother, I asked myself what I wanted to achieve in the coming years. I came to the conclusion that I wanted to be in an environment with as few distractions to my studies as possible, as well as a school that provided a good academic environment. I picked a Catholic girls’ school that had several decades of history, but wasn’t too historical or elite-school like.

The flock of white dresses passing by overwhelmed me when I entered the school on that first day in September. Having spent nine years in a co-ed school, my brain was trained to filter out the boys in class – except the cute ones maybe. I found it stressful to memorize a doubled number of names (I never tried to remember the boys’ names in my class). I was uncomfortable with the changes at first, but after a month or so, I started enjoying the eye-opening experience.

I thought going to a girls’ school would save me from those chick-flick problems: girls wasting time talking about their crushes and neglecting their studies. I was wrong. Girls still gossipped about each other’s crushes: handsome looking tomboys. And even worse, girls fought with each other for the good catches. We had a terminology to categorize different types of lesbians:

  1. Tomboys (TBs), boyish girls. The popular ones were mostly on the school basketball team.
  2. TBGs, girly girls who went after the TBs.
  3. Pures, girls who did not dress in a way to show their preference.

20140816-145414-53654918.jpg (image source)

I was shocked at first, but not soon after I found myself caught up in a bizarre love rectangle with my good friend, her crush, and her crush’s ex. So apparently I had become a TBG. The puppy love only lasted for three days (about which my friends still tease me), with lingering pain caused by a broken friendship. When I told my mom what happened, I saw a sign of relief on her face. It surprised me that the risk of me getting pregnant worried her more than me admitting that I was lesbian/bisexual.

That was my first and only experience of “dating” a girl (we only held hands though), and I was never again in a relationship with a girl. It was childish, but this most-remarkable part of my first year in the girls’ school enlightened me about what homosexuality is. From our peers we learned that sexual orientation is personal and a normal part of life. As some of our classmates realized they were only attracted to girls ever since they were in primary school, most us discovered that they were born this way, and there’s nothing wrong with it. No matter what her sexual orientation is, a girls’ school student is less likely to be influenced by biased opinions on homosexuality.*  

Some of the girls became lesbians out of curiosity, or because of the lack of attractive males in their social circles, and they started dating guys after getting into universities. They were the LUGs: Lesbians Until Graduation. In retrospect, our experiences as LUGs removed the veil of guilt and shame of having a different sexual orientation than most people. We learned the importance of respecting one’s choice of who he/she wants to be with, regardless of the partner’s gender.

Of course, our school did not like the idea. Not soon after my graduation, I was told that the school became so homophobic that girls were not allowed to hold hands with each other – even if they were just friends.


*Research findings also suggest that exposure to and contact with homosexuals brought about more positive attitudes toward homosexuality. “Effects of social contact with homosexuals on heterosexual Turkish university students’ attitudes towards homosexuality.” Sakalli N, Uğurlu O. J Homosex. 2001;42(1):53-62.

[Warning: Vulgarity] The different forms of dick(s)

I must say I’m not totally comfortable about writing this, but since my friend encouraged me to write something that “educates” her about the Hong Kong culture, I guess I should probably comply with her suggestion and talk about one of the facets of our local culture: Cantonese profanity. Fun yeah? (And to make this post look more professional, I’m going to use the Jyutping Cantonese system to denote the pronunciations.)

Cantonese 粗口(/cou1hau2/, noun. “swear words”), as similar to those of other cultures, are often use to express anger and frustration. The five most common vulgar words used in Cantonese are 屌 (/diu2/, verb. “to fuck”), 鳩 (/gau1/, noun. “dick”), 撚 (/lan2/, noun. “dick”), 柒 (/chat5/, noun. “dick”), and 閪 (/hai1/, noun. “the c word”). Yes, among the five vulgar words, three of them denote the male genital but they’re not merely synonyms. Cantonese, or the Chinese language as a whole, is never that simple.

撚 (/lan2/) is often used as a noun, for example: 佢(/keoi5/, pronoun for “his” or “her”) + 條 (/tiu4/, quantifier for stick-like objects) + 撚 (/lan2/) = 佢條撚, which means “his dick”. Or it can be inserted into an adjective. E.g. 好正 (/hou2 zeng3/) means awesome, fantastic, or when used in the context of describing a girl, means “so hot”. When 撚 (/lan2/) is added in between the two characters and changed the phrase to 好撚正 (hou2 lan2 zeng3/), it intensifies the degree of the adjective. Just think about the difference between “She’s hot” and “She’s fucking hot”.

optical illusion

(image source: Imgur)

For 鳩(/gau1/) and 柒(/chat5/), they both imply an erect penis. However, 鳩(/gau1/) means a hard one, while 柒 (/chat5/) denotes a soft one, despite erected.

鳩(/gau1/) can be put after the word 戇(/ngong6/, adjective. “stupid, simple, simple-minded) to describe a naïve, featherheaded person. For the pathetic, erect but soft 柒(/chat5/), we can put the word 笨(/ban6/, adjective. “foolish, stupid, dull”) before it: 笨柒 (/ban6 chat5/). Comparing 戇鳩 (/ngong6 gau1/) and 笨柒 (/ban6 chat5/), the former means that the person is impulsive like an erect dick (when it is not supposed to get hard), while the latter describe a stupid person who is pathetically incapable (just like an erect but soft dick).

As exemplified, even when 撚 (/lan2/), 鳩 (/gau1/), and 柒 (/chat5/) mean the same body part, each of them has distinct meaning – and that’s how precise (and cool) the Chinese language can be. It’s also fun to play with the swear words even when we’re writing or texting, since the pronunciation for 鳩(/gau1/) is very similar to the Cantonese pronunciation of the number 9 (/gau2/, the word 戇鳩 (/ngong6 gau1/) can be written like this: on9. Or if the person is too on9, we can also say: on99. And when Canto speakers apologize to someone when they don’t mean to at all: “… so99y lor”. For 柒(/chat5/), it sounds similar to number 7 in Cantonese (/chat1/). So if we call someone nerdy a 柒頭 (/chat5 tau4/), as 頭 means “head” in Canto, we can simply type “7head”.

And of course, my all-time favorite:



P.S. We also have a Cantonese equivalent for the word dickhead – 撚樣 (/lan2 joeng6/). Check out this Canto cult movie to have a look of what a 撚樣 looks like: An excerpt from the film The Eternal Evil Of Asia



Where is Tuen Mun?

During the previous weekend “double-not” (「雙非」) parents (couples who both are non-Hong Kong residents, but with kids enjoying the right of abode in Hong Kong) were upset as their kids failed to secure places in their preferred schools. Some of the “double-not” students living in Shenzhen, as a result of the allocation, will have to commute for at least an hour when the new school year starts (SCMP: Cross-border pupils face long commutes to distant schools). While some of parents do not even have an idea of where the schools are (one of their remarkable comments: “I’ve never been to the school… I don’t know where the school is. Where is Tuen Mun?”), locals are upset about the scarce resources being allocated to the “Hong Kong residents” who do not even reside in Hong Kong.

The “double-not” situation has been a problem in Hong Kong since the Chong Fung Yuen case in 2001, in which the Court of Final Appeal ruled that Chinese citizens born in Hong Kong enjoyed the right of abode regardless of the Hong Kong immigration status of their parents. The CFA’s decision catalyzed an era of demographic disaster: there was an influx of mainland women trying to give birth in public hospitals until 2012, parents engaged in fierce battle for milk powder, and when the “double-not” babies approach school age, it sparked a competition (particularly in the Northern area of Hong Kong) among local and “double-not” parents for limited school places.

Perhaps we should really show some sympathy towards the cross-border students who have to suffer long hours of travelling every day, and maybe also those devoted parents who tried to get the best for their kids. Yet, it’s hard for the locals to do so in the current situation. Not only is the Mainland-Hong Kong conflict caused by the limited resources, the more significant underlying reason is the difference in the value systems of the “double-not” parents and Hong Kong locals. With taxpaying locals spending money trying to move to a better school network, it’s certainly distressing to see others reap without sowing. To a certain extent, Hong Kong relies on the Mainland for its resources and monetary/ fiscal stimuli, and as a result, some of our Mainland counterparts think they are ENTITLED to the welfare in Hong Kong due to our reliance to the country. In their opinion, Hong Kong would not have been as prosperous as it is now if we did not have the help of our motherland. Some of the “double-not” parents think they’re doing no harm to Hong Kong. Instead, they are even mercifully granting us their support with the labor force that Hong Kong is running short of. One of the moms said to the reporter: 「香港以前無人生仔,支持我哋過嚟生,支援你哋下一代」(“There was no one giving birth in Hong Kong, [the government, probly?] supports us to give birth in Hong Kong, in order to provide assistance to your next generation”) (source). Oh wow.

 (Image source: HK Magazine)

Yes, a low birth rate may undermine Hong Kong’s development, yet a problematic population policy and inadequate resources (and the inappropriate allocation of them) are also irrefutable causes of our demographic disaster. The adverse consequence of the “double-not” trend is irreversible. In the future years parents will continue to compete with each other to fight for resources and opportunities. And perhaps the other aspect of the aftermath is even more problematic: locals dissatisfied about the economy and their well-being while the infiltration of a population which takes Hong Kong resources for granted continues, further worsening the conflict and tension within the city. The lack of school places due to the increased “double-not” children population is only one of the threats to Hong Kong caused by the city’s demographic imbalance, the local’s resentment towards their mainland counterparts and the contrasting cultures of the two are also tearing the city apart. It’s understandable that parents want the best for their children, and locals are not wrong to be angry about having their opportunities and resources deprived, yet given the government’s failure to solve this conundrum, the situation is grim. And sadly, if this impasse continues, Hong Kong will be at its peril.

Or maybe, it already is.

Even Smaller than a Pixel

“Where’re you from?” asked a British guy who tried to chat me up at a cinema during my trip in France.
“Hong Kong.”
“Oh where is it? Japan?”

Let’s blame the British Empire for being once a great colonizer, the number of countries/cities that it once ruled certainly makes it confusing for its people to remember the names and locations of their colonies. Amused, I posted the conversation on Facebook and received several feedbacks from my friends, examples include:

  • “Is Hong Kong so obscure =_=
  • “Story of my life in US… I’ll never forget when someone asked me if HK is the capital of Japan…”
  • “Story of my life back then when the colleague in the state saw earthquake in Japan they ask if my family are ok”

Yep, it’s entertaining to learn what others think of Hong Kong, yet as I thought about the incident again, I realized that I shouldn’t have been too astonished by people’s response. It might be surprising that there ARE actually people who think that we are a Japanese city, but isn’t the expectation that a foreigner would know whether Hong Kong is a bit presumptuous?

Maybe it is Hong Kong’s identity as a Special Administration Region that makes us distinguish our city from China and expect our foreign counterparts to know that Hong Kong is this unique place in East Asia that, even if it’s part of China, it functions independently (sometimes) and is its own jurisdiction. Or it might be my pride for my hometown, with perhaps a bit of Hongkong-centrism, that I expect others to have the slightest common sense to know which country Hong Kong’s sovereignty belongs to.

But as our neighboring cities embark on rapid development, Hong Kong is gradually losing its competitive advantage against its neighboring cities. With the heating competition between Hong Kong and Singapore to rank high as a world-class financial center, Guangzhou building a knowledge city to attract both talents and to make living sustainable, and Shanghai continuing its development as a business and financial center, I can’t help but wonder what Hong Kong has been doing since the handover. Oh yes, Hong Kong still maintains its core advantages (sort of), including a fair and equitable common law system, as well as a low and simple tax regime. But are these enough for us to maintain our status as a world-class city?

And money aside, Hong Kong might have once been famous for Wong Kar-wai’s films and Bruce Lee’s kung fu, but what do we have now? Our government can’t even put the West Kowloon Arts hub together and instead, blame their inability and lack of insight on a ridiculous excuse. The gallery scene in China continues to flourish, while the Chinese government develops cultural free-trade zones to encourage art auctions in the country (source). Singapore is also enjoying its art scene bloom as the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth invests S$65 million to revamp museums, cultural institutions. Have a look at their budget 2014, you will feel sad for Hong Kong government’s attitude towards our city’s artistic and cultural prospect. Despite the increasing number of artistic and cultural activities in Hong Kong recently, there’s still great work that our city is yet to do in order to maintain its competitive edge amidst the artistic and cultural development of other Asian cities.


(Image source: Wikipedia)

We are no longer basking in the afterglow of being a former-British colony, with our counterparts catching up, I will not be too surprised if one day our neighboring cities become more famous than we are. It would lead to a lengthy discussion of whether Hong Kong is still, or will remain, an important figure in the international arena among the emerging powers. But as much as I love my hometown, I’m aware of the great danger that hinders Hong Kong’s further development – the presupposition that Hong Kong is good enough, and will remain so in the future. After all, our beloved city is even smaller than a pixel on the map.

Fake ABCs

So my friend Kayo found out last week that she was treated nicer in Hong Kong when she speaks in English than in Mandarin, as the latter seems to be seen as the imperialistic language by the locals (post). The discomfort with the increasing Chinese influence of our city, along with the locals’ nostalgia of our colonial past, not only leads to bitterness towards Mandarin speakers but also perpetuates the white supremacy that has been prevalent in Hong Kong.

A common phenomenon in the recent years caused by the locals’ discomfort of their Eastern self under Western influences is the “Fake American-Born Chinese” (Fake ABC) style.
(Image source: Plastic Thing)

As depicted by popular local illustrator Plastic Thing, Fake ABCs have a certain fashion style (flip-over hairstyle which may hurt your cervical vertebrae and A&F/Hollister outfit), as well as a special way to talk.

Apart from the unnecessary tongue-rolling, frequent use of “Oh my god” and “like” in the speech as well as inaccurate Cantonese pronunciation (a gesture by the Fake ABCs attempting to show people that they suck in Canto) are common features of the way Fake ABCs speak. Some of them seem to think that babbling in Chinese naturally implies fluency in English. However, languages are not mutually exclusive of one another, and one’s incompetence in a language doesn’t necessarily mean competence in the other.

In the post-colonial Hong Kong there lingers a sense of loss in cultural identity, some deal with it by embracing only one particular culture and inevitably dismissing the others – and Chinese culture is often the compromised one. And as some of the locals try to look and sound Western by negating our cultural roots, they found themselves stuck in the stagnant swamp of identity confusion – not western enough to be real ABCs, yet reluctant to be called Chinese or local.

Just as our languages are not mutually exclusive, nor should our cultures be. In fact, the beauty of the Hong Kong culture lies within the interwoven web of multicultural influences, and for sure one can be comfortably westernized without forsaking the origin.