The expat community in Hong Kong was very interesting to me. I love being able to go into a cafe, restaurant, or bar and knowing I’d probably hear languages and accents that spanned the globe. Hong Kong was very distinct from my experiences in Shanghai and Beijing in that I felt like there was a goofy camaraderie among the people that visited, lived, or worked there.
Hong Kong is incredibly western. I knew that compared to much of China proper it would be more western but I was blown away. It has a long enduring British influence, and economic prosperity (it’s considered the number 1 freest economy in the world) has attracted people from all over the world. One of the first things you notice is that people drive on the
wrong left side of the road, like our pals across the pond. Then you probably hear some of the better educated locals speaking English, and doing so better than you, with fancy-schmancy British accent (Received Pronunciation or Estuary, but not Cockney). Then you realize everyone seems to be driving a Lamborghini, Porsche, or Aston Martin, and that’s because they are. Finally, while basketball and the NBA are essentially the sport of choice for mainland China, international football/futbol/soccer retains a strong presence.
I met people from France, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Canada, Ireland, and even America. The people I met were all very friendly, and most conversations began with a “where are you from?” which almost always followed with an “Oh my goodness! Do you know a Steve who is also from America?” It was funny because when I was talking to a French girl taking a short holiday in Hong Kong, she was surprised that I wasn’t being very “American” (drunk, fighting, bullying the locals, registered Republican), and I was surprised that she wasn’t being very “French” (no baguette under arm, no beret, no snobbery, no surrendering).
As with the lovely lady from France, I kept finding with people I met that we aren’t defined by our respective countries of origin. Where we came from gave us a culture of our own, but we were in a new land and exploring a new culture that wasn’t just Hong Kong culture, but a world culture. We found that not being from Hong Kong or China left us with more in common than a lot of people around us, and it helped diffuse the culture shock of being in so foreign a land. We’d trade tips about getting by, stories about our travels, ideas of which touristy spots to see, and occasionally a drink or two.
It’s a fraternity of the most interesting and kind people I’ve met in my travels, and it was always a comfort to meet someone new. Just another example of something I never saw coming that enriched my experience in China.
So please, if you find yourself abroad and the situation is right, don’t be afraid to say hello. Who knows, maybe you do know Steve who is also from America, and you’re closer than you could have known!