The Agony Broccoli writes (4/4)

Monday 16 January 2012, 9.00am HKT


If we want to change the world — or even just the bedlinen — look at the man in the mirror first, observe accidentally with care, and then prepare deliberately accidentally for reality.

* * *

On cultural identity anywhere you sit

Re: Chinese culture, I’m trying to do my bit to promote a British Born Chinese [BBC] culture. But I think the Facebook generation just really aren’t interested, rebelling against an upbringing of Chinese patriarchy — they just want to enjoy themselves. Practical Chinese nature and all that, it does my head in when I try and talk to people about creating a BBC cultural identity, just seems pointless after a while.

I hear you and you have my sympathy.

I’m basically considered a ‘broccoli’ here — British-raised/overseas Chinese — although factually I’ve been raised everywhere else in equal time. Know me for five minutes and you’ll probably notice I’m simultaneously as Eastern and as Western as any person could possibly get. And that’s a problem, as I shall explain.

Facebook has a couple of BBC groups, but they’re mostly dormant or are spam magnets for penis-enlargement scams or botox peddling.

Here in Hong Kong, there are some ‘party gatherings’ for general networking or drinking organised by or aimed at ABCs, BBCs and whatever-Cs. However, they’re mostly populated by financial suit types who concentrate more on the networking bit and try to inveigle you into buying some financial product that frankly between you and me borders on being a fancier form of botox or penis-enlargement scam.

Our position

The problem with Hong Kong (and with China also) for a ‘foreigny’ Chinese person is that the expat and local communities are as different as chalk and cheese. They don’t connect with each other much — there IS a genuine language barrier here as well as a mental one — and the Clockenflap festival was a noticeable exception to the rule.

In China, the expat community there is (or can be) overly Chinese-centric, and that gets annoying over time. Indeed, I find the more highly educated expats there are the most annoying, mainly because they try just a little too hard to be Chinese. But maybe that’s just because of my bias.

In reverse, the expats in Hong Kong are overly pro-Western (though not anti-Chinese or Chinese-averse), and that too gets annoying over time. Adding to the annoyance are the local Hong Kong Chinese themselves, who virtually avoid knowing anything about the West as well as about China. You can easily see this apathy by looking at the generally dismal standard of Chinese and English among Hongkongers.

I’ll summarise the situation of the alphabet soupsters for you:

  • If you’re an ABC (American-born Chinese), you’re in with the expat/American crowd until the going gets rough — then you’re jettisoned.
  • If you’re a BBC of a more English/British disposition, you’re 70-30 in the Brit and local camps.
  • If you’re a BBC who’s more Chinese in mentality, you’re just another Chinaman who happened to have been born abroad, and therefore 100% lumped with (and bulliable by) the localese.
  • If you’re a Eurochinese (i.e. born/raised on Continental Europe), you don’t count because you’re just another Euronal from a different planet and speak with a funny but adorable accent. So you belong to your own national camp 100%.
  • Interestingly, if you’re a CBC (Canadian-born Chinese), you’re mostly considered a local, even if you don’t even speak the local lingo.

But if you’re a multilocation-raised broccoli who speaks perfect, unaccented Cantonese and knows how to live the local life as much as the expat one, then you’re outta luck here. You’re completely stuck in between the expat, ABC, BBC and local camps — not very enjoyable. (Like me right now.)

The multilateral response to broccolis

* * *

On trust and a united front

Re: The BBC Chinese culture/Chinese apathy thing, I think it happens every ten years. Chinese are so damn unorganised when it comes to politics [and] looking out/supporting each other. Anyway, there’s lots of issues here in the UK but I won’t go on about it.

Actually, that’s a stark-naked realistic description of the situation in Hong Kong and China!

Some China-watchers who actually live inside China have long said that the almost genetically driven distrust/mistrust of the Chinese mind makes for that inscrutable character of John Chinaman described so well by Westerners in the olden days.

On a collective level, that leads to weak social cohesion (‘unorganised’ as you put it so well) — which also leads to disorganised society.

But that’s irrelevant philosophical sociology mush. Daily life intrudes, and there comes many moments in daily life when we just have to put some trust in somebody in order to get those humdrum activities of daily life moving along (like groceries). You, me and most people appreciate this fact of life, and move on.

The problem with us Chinese — mind, not so much the Hong Kong and overseas Chinese as it’s more in the case with Chinese mainlanders — is that even primitive levels of trust have now disappeared from their society. The fast and radical economic and social changes in China after it had reintegrated with the rest of the world 30 years ago just ended up creating a dog-eat-dog world over there.

I’ve heard numerous horror and bitchin’ stories from people who have lived in China. There, they say you can’t get simple things like groceries done without also constantly watching against being shafted. Imagine having to operate on shaft-alert mode day in and day out. Even the mainlanders are sick and tired of this. Imagine, if the food market can’t provide this rudimentary level of trust or support, what can we expect in more complex situations?

Maybe a united front isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, sometimes

* * *

Inadvertently observe carefully

I find it amazing that us foreign-educated Chinese are the sharpest observers of Chinese culture and identity [and] weaknesses, and yet we get the most maligned because of the opposition between East and West. If our opinions were listened to, Chinese culture would probably be a better place.

You’re a pretty sharp observer yourself.

Amaze no more. The reason is simple: there is something else to compare with and against.

Your remark is worth its weight in gold. Most of us (human beings) already think that — just that we don’t say it as you’ve said it.

In fact, I totally agree with you about if foreign-educated Chinese were listened to, even if abjectly. But practically everyone remembers this too:

For every vision, there is an equal and opposite ‘revision.’
(Corollary to Murphy’s Law)

Which is why most ‘foreign-educats’ no longer bother to say anything — waste of breath.

The Chinese mind sometimes works against its own best interest, so said Stephen Hall (a.k.a. Sin Tak-fun) who was a local business figure and social luminary in the 1920s to 1980s.

Let’s spell it out: the Chinese mind often suspends common sense and rationality when it comes to looking at its own. I don’t have to look too far for proof:

  • blindspot mode automatically kicks in (automatically predictably so) whenever the discussion contains any seemingly negative-sounding remarks about us Chinese
  • mainlanders automatically launch into a diatribe about how ‘The West’ had conspired to dismantle wealthy, resourceful and resource-rich China through opium, invasion, pillage, the Japanese, the Nationalists, the Soviet Union (!) and (now) containment (true enough and therefore unanswerable)
  • Hongkongers automatically prattle away that the West made lots of money off us Chinese, and if it wasn’t for our Chinese willingness to suffer the shafting in transactions with the West, the West wouldn’t be where it is now
  • mainlanders automatically refer to our glorious 4,000- or 5,000-year-old Chinese civilisation and need no stinkin’ West to lecture us on civil society
  • Hongkongers automatically point out how familiar we are about Western ‘bad habits and bad thinking’ on the grounds that we have been ruled by a Western power for 156 years

We need only one comparison to put the whole thing into perspective.

Japanese TV have regular ‘cultural perspective’ shows that invite foreigners (living in Japan or not) to spell out various forms of Japanese asshattery, stupidness and serious shite. The shows are noteworthy for their no-holds-barred, free-for-all attitude to listening foreigners’ complaints. The issues covered are serious; the presentation designed to be lighthearted.

A lot of people say such a TV show just wouldn’t fly in the USA. It sure as hell would cause instant flying riots from the Chinese, if my own experience of Chinese people is anything to go by.

It’s easy to spot the ‘fail’ — but did you ‘observe’ not doing this in the first place?

* * *

Idealistic vs. practical idealism

I have the idea that you were an idealist at some point in something and that you decided to just enjoy your life instead of trying to change things? It’s probably best that way and just to get on with things instead of trying to change the world. Idealists are never listened to, only businessmen.

Riding my chopper motorbike in my fringed leather jacket is a helluva better idealism in practical terms. Fixing the bike’s carburettors and changing the oil are much more satisfying than changing the world whose population of psychopaths has already gone beyond the point of no return.

Trumps any idealism

Idealism ain’t no free ride, I’m telling you, man. Idealism comes with a heavy pricetag. Only businesspeople with high moolah and low morals can afford it.

But idealism is bad business, and bad for business — which is why businesspeople don’t want anything to do with idealism. Can we blame them?

I suppose you are right about me being an idealist about something (?) at some time. I mean, we were all idealists to some degree in our younger days.

And then we become older and cynical when it’s our turn to pay the bills, look after the unabortable babies, hold down our imaginatively titled jobs, or beg like serfs for a job from potential employers who wear that insolent sardonic smile on their faces and behave with imperious disdain at our need for a job.

And then spend every bleeding night dealing with the ‘drama’ of those odd strangers with funny noses and shifty eyes living inside our homes we call ‘husband,’ ‘wife,’ ‘son,’ ‘daughter’ or even ‘grandchildren.’

Yes, I too tell people (just like Kevin Flynn did in “TRON: Legacy”) that,

“You’d be amazed just how productive it can be to do just nothing.”

Changing the world is just SEP:

* * *

On being mentally prepared for realities

Anyway, I’ll have to take the English teaching option a bit more seriously, and decide from there, once I’ve got other work out the way, and improve my Cantonese in the meantime. Not too keen on having to impress the snobby culture, but it is what it is, I suppose.

That’s the spirit.

People just don’t realise the value of those great British skills of ‘muddling through’ and ‘keep calm and carry on.’


* * *


Which is more important to you — your ‘world’ or your ‘country’?

How do you decide which?

What is the meaning of YOUR life? WHY do you exist?

* * *


“The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything
is calculated by an enormous supercomputer over a period of
7.5 million years to be 42. Unfortunately no one knows what the question is.”

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (1979)


© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2012.

Images: Alphabet soup via c4c ♦ Old Hong Kong flag via Wikipedia ♦ ABC via 4you4free ♦ ‘Know the Blindspots’ via Workzone Safety ♦ Chinese beach swimmers via c4c ♦ Fail stairs via c4c ♦ Motorbiker on chopper via Hotel Brenner ♦ Somebody Else’s Problem via Cutcaster ♦ ‘Reality is what you can get away with’ via Talent Imitates, Genius Steals.

The Agony Broccoli writes (3/4)

Monday 16 January 2012, 3.00am HKT


WHERE YOU STAND depends on where you sit, as the saying goes. The nice reader who wrote in about possible relocating touched on the matter of knowing the right lingo and our home countries change with times.

* * *

On knowing the right Chinese language

And also … Cantonese sounds much nicer, and probably easier for me to learn.

I’ve been saying this for a long time to one and all, but nobody believes me.

Cantonese has long been the Chinese language of the UK. (Yeah, I know how that sounds.) If you’ve lived long enough in the UK, it just ‘makes sense’ that you find Cantonese easier to handle.

(It’s roughly the same situation in Canada — but that’s another story.)

I don’t have a drop of Cantonese blood in me, but Cantonese is my mother tongue, believe it or not, mostly learnt in the UK. I happen to be an extremely fluent Cantonese speaker. Whenever I open my gob in Cantonese, many Hongkongers presume I’m an out-and-out local — that’s how locally Cantonese I speak.

A slight digression:

Right up until the most recent time (around the mid-1990s), when Chinese people came to the UK to live, work or study, they just spoke Cantonese, regardless of Chinese origin. The Hakka spoke Cantonese, the Shanghainese too, the Fujianese, the Mandarin-shleppers, Singaporeans, and the Indochinese.

“Cantonese speak Cantonese: if you don’t understand Cantonese, go back to your village.” Let’s not travel down that road about Cantonese-ness. (via Wikipedia)

Back in my day, my Mandarin-speaking friends and classmates spoke Cantonese in the UK. Every Chinaman in Blighty spoke Cantonese, and no one paid a thought about speaking any other kind of Chinese.

(In case there are morons out there who misread this, Cantonese-speaking in the UK is just a convention — a social commonality — not some pro-Cantonese ethnolinguistic rights activism like we see in China of late.)

Today, the last time I was back in the UK (2006?), I heard only Mandarin, usually in a variety of mainland Chinese accents.

It’s broadly the same story in the USA, where my family lived for a while:

  • Toishan and Cantonese in Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco
  • Cantonese and Hokkien in New York City and environs
  • Cantonese for the whole of Texas, Colorado and Nevada
  • Vietnam-style Cantonese in Nebraska (!)
  • Chicago Chinese are normally Mandarin speakers but they’re pretty fluent in Cantonese too
  • Mandarin in and around Washington DC

Today, it’s Mandarin all round in America.

Srsly, if you’re planning on coming to Hong Kong, it’s Cantonese or English — don’t try anything else. Mandarin a.k.a. Putonghua is secretly dissed in the minds of most Hongkongers. Right now, with the Dolce & Gabbana ruckus going on in Hong Kong, best avoid Mandarin in public places.

That being said, be advised that Hong Kong’s manufacturing base is in China, specifically in the Pearl River Delta region about 50 miles (80 kilometres) west of here. If you don’t know Mandarin (as I don’t), you’re pretty much stuck hire-wise.

* * *

On a changed Britain

UK has changed a lot,  I grew up in the ’80s so can only remember the dreks of the ’70s. But in some ways it’s the same. And, yes, with the economy and riots and whatnot, it’s not the greatest of times.

I hear you. I was in the UK in the Seventies and Eighties, and they weren’t the greatest of times either. But in my day, the UK was latest and greatest when everything was crumbling to bits:

  • Harold Wilson and Teddy Heath taking us into the EEC
  • Decimalisation of the quid — not nice, but still a serious relief to the venerable £.s.d. because by then we had stopped learning proper arithmetic and multiplication tables so couldn’t work out Old Money anymore
  • The county of Westmorland became part of the Orwellian republic of Cumbria in the North West of England (see map) (and that’s srsly unforgivable)
  • The Spaghetti House Siege
  • Jim Callaghan and the ‘Winter of Discontent’
  • The Labour Party’s Michael Foot and his foot in his mouth
  • The heatwave of 1976
  • The rubbishmen’s strike (phooew!)
  • Maggie Thatcher (enough said)
  • The newspaper strikes that lasted more than a year
  • The Falklands invasion
  • The Harrods bombing (I was there not more than 20 feet away from the blast!)
  • The Brixton riots (I was NOT there)
  • The university fee overhaul that caused The Great British Brain Drain (a contradiction in terms!)

I have to say things seriously started unravelling by the late 80s. My last trip back was around 2006 and, boy, the UK felt more like America than anything else.

(Disclaimer: I’ve nothing against the USA. For cryin’ out loud, I’m even a cowboy boot wearer since when very young. But I do like the UK to feel like the UK, and America like the good ole’ US of A. Just sayin’.)

* * *


Look in the mirror carefully, and observe accidentally,
then prepare for reality


© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2012.

Images: Cantonese poster by Apple Daily via Wikipedia ♦ Regions of England and the UK both via Maps of UK.

The Agony Broccoli writes (2/4)

Sunday 15 January 2012, 9.00pm HKT


We continue with my facepalmingly overlong, overwritten response to the very nice reader who wrote in about possibly relocating to Hong Kong.

* * *

On choosing the right time to land

Well, from what you said, looks like I’m stuck here [in the UK] until I get to travel out to Hong Kong in [sometime this year], at least to visit […].

Our hottest months are from July to October basically. If ever coming over during then, know that, after long living in the mild weather of the UK, you are highly likely to break out with some sort of skin condition because of the heat and humidity. Not trying to scare you, but just sayin’.

Hong Kong is a subtropical country: you can’t survive without air-conditioning.

Read my overlong, overboring, overwritten exposé of ACs myths.

* * *

Choices are your own, and you might actually have to live with them

I’ve already started learning Mandarin, and when I went to Beijing with my friend, got to practice it. I enjoyed it a lot, and I think as a choice between Hong Kong and Beijing, I’d choose Beijing for the weather and the girls, and Hong Kong just for family roots.

I’ve never been to Beijing myself, but I am inclined to agree that northern birds are better cleavaged and more personable (to some extent) than southern womenfolk. But then again, I’ve been known to pay only scant attention to birds other than for their obvious endowments.

Srsly, seems like this roots vs. someplace else thing is a common-enough issue with overseas-born or -raised Chinese.


If you’re choosing a place you have family roots in, the upside is obvious — you have kith and kin to fall back on in case of trouble.

English: Category:Exhibits in Hong Kong 展品 Cat...

You make your own roots (via Wikipedia)

However, people who are willing and able to relocate to another continent tend not to be troublemakers and tend not to get into scraps. So here in Hong Kong a.k.a. the City of Stairs and Celestial Rents, the fallback translates more usually than not as access to free or free-ish accommodation while you look for piss-pauvre employment and more permanent living quarters that cost you an arm and a leg.

The downside with the family-roots choice is that after a short while here your life becomes somewhat structured according to your relatives’ (especially if you’re a live-in at their place). And if your other folks tend to be somewhat old-fashioned, you end up with various obligations and atavistic practices especially during holiday festivals.


If you want to go the completely-new-place route (like choosing Beijing or any other place where you have no family ties), the upside is that your life and living carries on in very independent fashion. You are your own man (or woman), and you can do whatever you bloody well feel like it, thank you very much.

United Kingdom: stamp

(Sem Paradeiro via Flickr)

Take Beijing, for instance. If you can handle the massive redtape, the money-grubbing ways of the more personable chicks, or the more sinocentric attitudes of the Pekinese, then fine.

Long living anywhere gets to anyone sooner or later. Unlike Hong Kong, Beijing is user-frustrating if you (regardless of passport) want to take off to some city or country for a long weekend.

In Hong Kong, have money, will travel.

The downside of choosing a place with no ties is that you’re on your own. By that, I don’t mean in the sense of getting into some fracas with the local authorities or favourite local mob (same thing, really). It’s just that you have to start from ‘zero’ (and long lead times) in making friends, getting about, living the local life, living the expat life, learning the social ropes, etc — and that can be hard and gut-wretching for some people.

Protip: Check how you socialise in your current community. Broadly speaking, this will be a good indicator of how you’re likely to fare in another city or country.

For example, when I was in the UK, I was quite the character and lots of people (apparently) wanted to hang out with me, so I got regular invitations to parties and various other “do’s.” I was (and still am) entirely comfortable with the young, the midaged, the geriatric — whatever their age.

And then I turned up back in Hong Kong, and then the parties were no more because Hongkongers here don’t ‘hang out’ mainly because of the high cost. (Sigh)

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.

Cantonese roast duck:
Not every duck is Peking duck, and the eating is different. Namsayin’?

* * *


Know the right lingo, because even your home country changes


© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2012.

Images: Air conditioner via c4c ♦ Cantonese roast duck via Cook at Home ♦ All other images powered by Zemanta/WordPress.

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