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Whitefella Australian learning how to be gwai lo (鬼佬) in Hong Kong

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Hong Kong Tropes

Hong Kong image from here under Creative Commons licence
In homage to my new favourite way to waste spend time on the Interweb, this page is a shout-out to TVtropes, a site that despite its name, covers all manner of popular culture. It does not, however cover cities, though I am not going to let that stop me here.
Sadly, unlike the original, which relies on the wisdom of crowds, this one will be based on my poor isolated grey matter, and will be all the poorer for it, although perhaps that is the true fate of all homage.
Nonetheless, I will forge on, confident in the knowledge that a true fan knows no bounds! Some will surely disagree with these, or maybe just think that I don't know what I'm talking about. Having only lived in Hong Kong a short while (個月), I cannot be sure I have these tropes nailed, but I'll give it a go.

Floors are dirty
Now if you come to Hong Kong from far enough away, you quickly learn that something is up with the floor. Either it's dirtier than where you came from, or we're all much cleaner. This is easy to notice at restaurants. You walk in, get seated, dump your bag on the floor (no!), and before you know it, the super-efficient staff will pick them up, pull up a chair, and seat them next to you, like a crowd of small, but surprisingly silent children. Sooner or later, you eventually get it, and you start to look for a table with enough chairs for your party, plus one.
This is not just about good service at eating establishments, it's EVERYWHERE. A great example, from the other day, was a group of young men, perhaps in their late teens, early twenties, handing out flyers. Now, this is not an age-group or a gender that I associate with hygiene, but nonetheless their bags were all piled up on some carefully laid-out sheets of newspaper. Now, I am sure it can't be because the whole population is really worried about germs, so where does it come from. Knowledgeable Hong Kong friends tell me that there is a class element to it, because everyone knows you just don't sit on the floor. Now, obviously there is a reasonable element to this, as you wouldn't want to spend too much of your time eating food off the floor, and yet, so much of what was normal in my former life was about sitting/putting things on/lying down on the ground, all without a care in the world. An associated trope is bag hooks, those indispensable items for keeping your precious possessions off the filthy floor.
Whacky photos
This one is a tricky one. Presumably many of the photo-takers I see are actually tourists, and so not from here, but then why do I see it here all over the place, and not so much elsewhere. Is it something in the air? You know what I'm talking about. It isn't enough to actually be having your photo taken - you have to do something whacky! Hey, maybe you could look like you're resting your hand on the head of that Giant Buddha in the background? Perhaps you need to act as if you're not just happy to be on holiday, but ecstatic! At the very least you need to make some effort, like making the classic double 'v' sign. You know it's the rules.
I wonder if this is something that you just normalise over time, into you find yourself doing it without thinking. I know I've been tempted to do it in photos lately, out of a sort-of ironic homage, but it could be easy to slide from that into seeing it as normal. Contrast this trope with German Photo, where everyone is very serious and self-contained.

Can you see how seductive this whole process is?

1 comment:

  1. I really want the time to browse through all these links but I have only just caught up with this post so I think I am just too behind - shame as it looks like a great time waster