What is Hong Kong?

Cultural awareness is something pretty important to me. After all, I am the guest in another country and to some extent I have to respect that things are going differently here. Sometimes it can be something pretty harmless, like not wearing flip flops or accepting change with both hands instead of only one. But there are also aspects of Hong Kong culture that require some more thought. How to tell a local group member to do her part and put some effort in our work, without being either too indirect or too offensive? How to show gratefulness and respect to the cleaning lady, who gave me a fridge (a long story) without offending her?

My normal approach is to smile a lot and repeat ‘thank you’ in Cantonese for a ridiculously long time. Yet, I feel that my knowledge and ‘culture skills’ are not as well-trained as they should be, taking into consideration that I am already living here for almost 3 months. This has to do with the fact that I do not have as much contact with locals as I wish, that I do not speak the language and that the international environment just messes with many of the traditions.

In a way this is a real pity, when walking through town and exploring the ‘real Hong Kong’, there is so much I do not really understand or fully grasp: small shrines in between the shops, people burning paper bottles of beer and toothpaste for the dead, snake soup. Things that are alien to me, much more than they could be. I feel like I see and experience Hong Kong, but dimmer than it is, as if I am looking through lenses instead of seeing the real thing. If only I had the chance to actually live with locals, get a host family or even a campus-roommate who grew up here….

Complaining about this, I always get the same reply: “That’s how it is on exchange.” Maybe, but still this is not a real excuse for me. Rather, I should work on myself and try to make the best of it. Approaching locals, instead of only living in the comfy exchange-community, exploring the hidden parts of town instead of the shopping malls.

Leaving this place with a feeling of ‘this is all still confusing but in a way I got it’ is my final goal for this exchange.

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