Culture shock hits hard

I realise I have made a grave mistake in my approach to life in Hong Kong. I had obviously gotten too accustomed to Japanese culture, where people are constantly polite, kind, and overly sweet to you. I was a fool to believe I would receive similar treatment here.

On this blog I always try to remain upbeat, because it is an adventure living in other countries. But don’t for one second think it is easy. Living away from your home country is hard like hell, in many different ways. It’s not all fun and games and sightseeing. It is daily life in a foreign land surrounded by foreign people who have very foreign ways of behaviour. And it is especially hard adapting to Chinese culture. Ironically enough, Japan is considered one of the weirdest places on earth, yet I felt a lot more at home there than here in Hong Kong which has had a strong British influence and is definitely more westernised.

I suppose my main problem is that living for a year in Japan made me a bit soft, and moving to Hong Kong has been a shock to the system. In the past five months, there have been countless times when I have felt powerless, victimised, weak, humiliated and pushed aside. Chinese people by nature are rough. They don’t seem to care about anybody else around them in their daily lives. They cannot see me, I do not exist.

It is really the little things that really get to me — the fact that people won’t even hold the door for one second, even though you are literally one step behind them. They simply don’t give a rat’s ass whether the door slams in your face. They don’t care if you are running for the elevator, and they look you in the eye and keep pressing the button to close the door. They will never wait for you — apparently their time is too precious. They will push you back into the train before you have a minute to get off. If they see something — anything — for free, they take all of it and leave none for others. They push in front of every line and refuse to wait their turn. They seem to lack the most basic politeness in daily comings and goings. People never look out for you, they have little consideration for the other human beings around them, and are apparently oblivious to your existence. It is hard to accept, that in Hong Kong, people simply do not care. Or at least it seems that way to me.

So, I have come to the conclusion that in order to survive here, I have to toughen up, and quickly. If living in the soft, squishy, smiley pink bubble that is Japan has made me soft, I have to accept the harsh reality of the situation, and adapt. I must toughen my skin. I must stop expecting or hoping that people will be more considerate, more kind and more patient. I must learn to stand up for myself, to be more ballsy, to be confrontational, to call people on their shit. Because the reality is, this is Chinese culture, or at least this is Hong Kong culture, and I am a foreigner in their midst. I cannot change them, so the question is, how much should I allow them to change me?

I don’t mean to moan so much or overgeneralise, because Hong Kong is not all bad. There are times when I like Hong Kong a lot. And the Chinese friends that I have been fortunate to make are wonderful, sweet, friendly people. But I seem to have a hard time getting along with the other 99% of Hong Kongers, and I don’t know why or what I can do about it. Perhaps this is why all the foreigners here stick together and rarely mix with the locals. Perhaps that is the sad but true reality of this place. And the sooner I learn to accept it and live in it, the happier I will be.

In the meantime, I suppose I will have to practice asserting myself, and learn how to push back. It won’t be easy, because I am a non-confrontational person by nature. Perhaps it will be a good lesson for me. Perhaps it will make me a cynical, hard assed bitch. Time will tell, I suppose.

Bed time. Good night, all.

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5 Replies to “Culture shock hits hard”

  1. i’ve been randomly following your blog from genki____; i feel like this isn’t the first time i’ve introduced myself either.

    anyway,
    when you moved over to this HK blog, i kept reading because it was… refreshing. i mean, just really obviously fresh to HK. alot of people (from around the world) tell me they LOVE this place, but then i ask them how much time they’ve spent here; the answer was always less than 2 weeks.

    so back to you–
    welcome to HK! first you are curious and explorative… you start to observe the idiosyncrasies of the environment… then bitterness and contempt comes along for it… but perhaps the system can cycle itself when you finally understand the reasons for the occasion.

    am i vague?

    i have a hate/love relationship also… but i figure that the beautiful part in moments of disturbance is how we can intelligently negotiate around it, and in spirit, just gaining more consciousness.

    it’s clear that you’re not a sheep, and you won’t be one… but hopefully this place doesn’t tread too hard on you before you find your peace of mind.

    on a light note:
    go to guangzhou for about a week, then you will return appreciative. hah!

  2. HK can be quite brutal at times. However, you should try Jakarta. I was there for less than a week, and wanted to leave ASAP. It’s like the wild west of Asia.

    But I empathize. Some of my other expat friends have voiced the same feelings too. But for all their brutish ways, one only has to think of their dim sum meals to see how communal and friendly HK is.

    Enjoy the good parts. Ignore the rest.

  3. Gyul…

    Yuh from Trini! Doh fuhget.
    You bigger and BADDAH dan all dem.
    Yuh tink any ah dem could take a Cyanival Tuesday jammin in St. James by de oval dey in de hot m#dd#c#nt sun?

    I doubt it.

    I am still here. Keep travellin. Doh stop explorin.

  4. Politeness in the western sense is not part of culture here. People _are_ polite and kind, just in different ways. But you’ll be amazed at the random acts of kindness to strangers (people stopping to give you directions if you look lost etc.) and also the sense of safety here.

    Keep chugging on and remember to keep your eyes and mind open 🙂

  5. I know what you mean John — I have indeed met many local people who are wonderfully kind, friendly, humble and polite. But they are in the minority.
    I don’t think politeness is a ‘western’ or ‘eastern’ concept. There are BASIC levels of politeness and that are in every country, regardless of the culture. From Japan to Thailand to the Philippines to Turkey to England to the Caribbean to Canada, I’ve visited and lived in many, many cultures, and tend to think that Hong Kong tends to fall to the bottom of the list when it comes to politeness. Perhaps an unfair critique, perhaps it is culture shock, perhaps my opinion will change in time. In fact, I really hope it does!

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