Cultural Observations

posted Aug 17, 2010, 12:34 AM by Charles Boling   [ updated Aug 17, 2010, 5:36 AM ]

We made some interesting observations about Chinese culture while we were in Hong Kong. First were the striking contrasts between the rich and the poor. In America people talk about the growing gap between the two, but it is nothing compared to Hong Kong. So many people live in tiny, filthy apartments here – crammed so close to each other, that you wonder how there can possibly be enough air between the buildings to support life! And then on the other extreme you have the waterfront area that has hotels and recreation spots straight out of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”.

Second was the SMOKING. Ugh!!! Smoking is a HUGE problem here. All ages from teens on up smoke – everywhere. There are vending machines that dispense cigarettes to anyone with money for them. The only places that we saw smoking not allowed was in the MTR stations and on the MTR trains. The second-hand smoke was thick – everywhere. Hong Kong has very little air pollution because it has very little traffic and industrial sections. But the smoking is horrible.

Third was the prevalence of air conditioners. Even the poorest apartments had two or more air conditioning units in their windows. But while they all did have air conditioning, what they didn't have were clothes dryers. Even the upscale apartments (everyone lives in apartments – no one owns their own homes there) have laundry hanging out on the porch or balcony (sometimes over the street). It was very strange to see!

Next was the Chinese peoples dislike of ice in drinks. If you ask for “just water” you will get hot water by default. If you ask for it cold, you will get it lukewarm. You have to specifically ask for ice (if they even have it) and then you are charged extra for it. Bottled water is always drunk at room temperature. Tea is of course a huge thing, and coffee is second (Starbucks is over here too! :-/ ) so if you don't want either you get REALLY strange looks. And if ice isn't available for your water, another popular drink is hot water mixed with some honey and a few lemon slices. It's actually really good.

We were quite surprised by the level of modesty (clothing-wise) over here. If it got as hot in Washington as it does over here, everyone would be running around in their underwear! But over here the vast majority of people, men and women have modest clothing (shoulders covered, mid-rifs covered, skirts and shorts below the knee). In fact, it was amazing to see how many people, even in the heat, wore long pants – and some even wore long sleeves.

Many people wore disposable masks – like the kind doctors wear during operations – when they were out in town. We couldn't figure out if it was because they were sick and were required to wear them, or if they wore them to keep from getting sick. And along those lines, all of the hand rails and poles and things (like in stores or trains or train stations) were covered in what they said was an “antibacterial coating” to prevent germs from spreading.

Oh, and women over here aren't afraid of saying how old they are. Where that subject is a taboo in our society (for some weird reason), in China it isn't at all. It is stated as matter-of-factly as a child's age would be. We wonder if it's because of the great respect the Chinese culture has for their elders.

What a world-wide city Hong Kong is! After church, there were four sisters talking together in a group (in English): An American (Michele), a Brit, an Australian and a Chinese sister.