The Agony Broccoli writes (1/4)

Sunday 15 January 2012, 3.00pm HKT

A VERY NICE READER has written to me about the blog, and about potentially relocating to this dump Hong Kong.

Then I realised the reader’s questions and remarks have thrown up some highly interesting points dying to come out into the open.

I’ve encountered the same kind of questions and concerns many times before in others, so these must be quite typical issues for people thinking about coming over here.

Riders added here that were not in the original communication.

Certain parts of the original communication have been redacted for the purposes of this post to protect the reader (obviously) and myself (even more obviously).

(No, this is not an Agony Aunt/Agony Uncle post.)

* * *

Planning is everything; the plan is nothing

Interesting blog. I’m a British-born Chinese thinking of going to Hong Kong but my Cantonese is non-existent. And if I went there as an English teacher, I wouldn’t get to learn Cantonese. Plus I love the cool weather in the UK but hate that there’s not many Chinese here [in the UK].

I know what you’re thinking. I tell you, you got to have a working ability in Cantonese in Hong Kong today.

Not to put too fine point on things, you also need an ability to write Chinese — no kidding, Hong Kong is THAT changed now.

Mandarin is becoming increasingly ‘desirable,’ if you get what I mean.

I myself don’t read or write Chinese, though English and Cantonese are my mother tongues. My inability to read and write Chinese is a major problem for me, professionally speaking. My work is chiefly a printbroker — I sell printing services to the financial community. While I’m problem-free with the bankers/wankers (who are reasonably good English speakers), the difficulty kicks in with the printing and paper people (who don’t speak or write English). So everything has to be conducted by speech, which, you could imagine, can sometimes be a real butthurt.

My advice to you:

  • You gotta bring up your Cantonese, no debate.
  • You gotta have an airtight employment contract before you start coming over, otherwise you could be left in the lurch.
  • You gotta have proper accommodation before you come over — you just can’t make do with hostels etc while you’re looking for more permanent digs (the rent here is scary high).
  • You gotta play up your ‘Englishness’ if you’re ever hired as an English teacher here  — Hongkongers are a bunch of snobs, and if you seem to be ever-so-slightly less English, you’re done for.

I’ve seen people just get up and go, and end up in a rut here. Hong Kong is a town far too costly to come to without some careful planning.

* * *

On powers of observation

I enjoyed your blog by the way on the [Clockenflap] festival. You have an astute observation on the different types of Chinese, ABCs, BBC girls, amusing stuff, you should be a published writer.

I am in me mum’s words “a little bit of a naughty boy.” So if I wanted to make people feel jealous, I would probably say (in a French accent), “Thank you, mais oui, it is because I have lived in so many places around the world and that makes me possible to see through many things.”

Truth is, if my observation really was/is astute, I reckon it’s more to do with growing up with very open-minded parents and grandparents, and less with living a baton-relay race all over the world. This, I find, is the case with observant people I know.

Broadly speaking, grandparents are naturally more conservative than parents — they must be! surely, because of the times and circumstances of their formative years.

That being said, if grandparents and parents are open-minded about things in life, we see life from their perspective (or at least we have an idea of theirs). From that, almost imperceptibly, we take on a freer-form worldview of people and things — and (more importantly) of circumstances. It’s hard to explain.

English: Sai Yeung Choi Street South, Mongkok,...

What do you notice, or want to notice? (Mongkok district in Hong Kong via Wikipedia)

Nobody ever said you can’t be open-minded and conservative at the same time.

Here’s a small digression. If you know how to ‘read’ it, then you’ll have an idea about living here for real:

A classic example of orthodox closed-minded conservative attitude is that pointless faggotry about less vs. fewer that we typically run into from grammarfags (plus that dylexic bunch from linguistics). It’s poison to reasonable observation.

Nearly everyone knows ‘less’ is for mass nouns and uncountable things, and ‘fewer’ for numbers. (Less butthurt from fewer asshats, no?) We got the memo!

And nearly everybody has seen that proverbial supermarket sign


and knows it IS wrong by strict grammar. But that phrase has been in accepted currency for a very long time, and practically speaking should be treated as an idiom — or just one of those exceptions to the rule.

Knowing that “10 items or fewer” is right but “10 items or less” is not wrong makes for a healthier, happier mental life. You’ve got a choice between the two, and choices improve quality of life. There are many other things that help burst your blood vessels already and we need no stinkin’ less vs. fewer for it, thank you very much.

But, no, there are actually people who get into furious indignation about it — some going into overdrive and force the supermarket to reword the sign, and think it’s some kind of altruistic achievement or personal victory in upholding some nebulous standard of decency. Sorry, I go to the supermarket for groceries, not grammar.

There’s at least one movie by that name (“10 Items or Less,” 2006, starring Morgan Freeman) and a TV series (also 2006) on Turner Broadcasting System. Journalists (even top-flight journos like David Frost and those on “60 Minutes”) regularly ask interviewees to explain some crap in “25 words or less.”

Indeed, I write to my clients that I could finish their printjobs in 25 days or less — and get paid for it. And I (as a non-practising lawyer myself) can assure the grammarfags that phrases like

‘this hearing should last three days or less’

‘stolen 10 items or less’

come with unnerving regularity in court straight from judges’ and barristers’ mouths.

There’s a lot of that one-size-fits-all attitude around the world, and it’s very strong in Asian societies.

(In fact, I don’t want to see a “10 items or fewer” sign in a supermarket — a case of reverse orthodox closed-mindedness?)

SVG map of Hong Kong's administrative districts.

18 items or MORE
Administrative districts in Hong Kong
(via Wikipedia)

* * *


When you should choose to land,
and why you have to live with your choices


© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2012.

Images: Hong Kong coins via Learn Cantonese ♦ All other images powered by Zemanta/WordPress.

One Response to “The Agony Broccoli writes (1/4)”

  1. g said

    funny i thought you were going to address observations and then you went off on one about printing. one size fits all asian attitude. theres probably something in that. chinese like to simplify things, bit like the cantonese language – very short sharp staccato bursts of directness. black or white, yes or no. doesnt make for the subtleties that the english language can express. but then it also makes the english language sneakier in comparison.

    I dont think i could handle HK working life to be honest. im way too lazy.


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