Having been to Hong Kong for almost a week, this being the second visit to Hong Kong after a one week visit to Hong Kong 3 years ago, I find many of the myths built around Hong Kong to be very inaccurate. Here are some quick out-my-head points of some of the most popular myths about Hong Kong and my 2 week visit thoughts about them.
“Everybody in Hong Kong speaks some Mandarin” or “Hong Kong is very Chinese”
This one completely overtakes the Taiwan myth that everyone in Taiwan speaks Mandarin or that Taiwan is very Chinese. After all, most of the 6 million Hong Kong people that came here after the Japanese brought the numbers down to 6 hundred thousands during the second world war occupation, were from mainland China, from all sorts of places, so one would expect that there should be some Chinese aroma to it all and that Mandarin would atleast be heard somewhere in the streets by more than just mainland tourists. But it’s not. Hong Kong’s been part of mainland for over 10 years now with China trying to promote Mandarin as the official administration language or atleast as the official second language. But so far – as far as I can tell – with little success. I think Chiang Kai Shek and the KMT did it faster with Taiwan. To me it seems that most Hongkongese don’t speak English or Mandarin very well, and that they’re quite comfortable with it. Why wouldn’t they be? what reasons would they have to speak either colonizing language? As far as I can tell, Hong Kong has its own distinct people and culture. Maybe that will change by the time Hong Kong will be fully absorbed into China in around 40 years.
“Everybody in Hong Kong speaks English” or “Hong Kong is very British”
This one competes with the famous India myth that everyone in India speaks English. After all, the British ruled Hong Kong for 99 years and had even longer in India, and since the British practically forced their culture upon all administrative and education functions then that means that everyone in Hong Kong should be very British by now and that they all speak perfect British accent English.
Nothing could be further from the truth. It was shocking to once again to rediscover that Hongkongese don’t necessarily speak English and if they do – they don’t speak it very well, and I’m not talking about their Cantonese sounding English accent (see Lethal Weapon 4 with Uncle Ben for clarification). The better educated naturally speak better English, but that holds true for the rest of the world as well, Taiwan included. The average service provider, the average person on the Hong Kong streets, the taxi driver, and most of the people I had interaction with – their level of English wasn’t very impressive. I’d say it’s about the same as the level of English I encounter in Taipei.
As for the Hongkongese being British, aside from the double-deckers, a few buildings around Central and the fancy cars and suits in the commercial districts, I find very little to suggest that Hong Kong had anything to do with the British. Were they really there?
(BTW – seems like I’m not the only one writing about that. Take one 7 year HK resident as a recent blogging example.)