One Year After Hong Kong

More than a year has passed since our return from Hong Kong. The day has come and gone without my having said anything about it on this website, but in recent weeks I have actually been thinking a lot of our time there.

Looking back at this past year, I have realized that I had not really gotten over leaving Hong Kong. It has been like a mourning period, or the period after a breakup, with constant comparisons between aspects of life here and aspects of life there. To name a few, it is mostly things that, in my opinion, HK does better than SF: convenience, HK-style food, public safety, and public transportation.

Back in March of 2015, before we decided to return to the US, I did some comparisons with the intention of posting them here. I never did, so here are some of them now, in italics, along with present-day comments and additions.

Convenience

The other day, JC told me that the stored value on her prepaid phone was running low. I was in a new-to-me part of town on my way to a dinner but I knew that all I had to do was to keep my eyes open and I’d find a place that sells recharge cards. Not long after, I saw a 7-Eleven and took a detour. It took 30 seconds for me to stop, buy the phone card, and then be back on my way.

I remember this night, getting off the bus and walking up a footbridge, then seeing the 7-Eleven just inside the Shun Tak Centre. Whatever it is you need, you can be sure that it’s not far away. More significantly, you can be sure that it’s not far away, on foot. It is the nature of population density and the culture that has evolved from it. Most people don’t drive. Homes are small with little space for storing extra things. Instead, when the need arises, people simply go down to the supermarket or the convenience store. Considering the small space and the large amount of people, it is not surprising to see multiple supermarkets, convenience stores, and restaurants in close proximity to, and steps away from, each other. On the most part this wouldn’t happen in America (I’m thinking NYC might be an exception). A single big box store would be able to successfully meet the demand of people from miles around and opening another one across the street probably would not make business or financial sense.

I’m also a fan of the super convenient Octopus cashless payment system, accepted all over Hong Kong. It works on most modes of transport, retail stores, and fast-food restaurants. I’ve even paid for haircuts with it. Whenever I went to play basketball, I only had to bring my Octopus card and I’d be covered for the bus fare, the drinks machine at the court, and sometimes even a late dinner from Cafe de Coral if I was hungry. If only Clipper were as widely accepted here as Octopus is in HK.

A couple of other seemingly small but actually very convenient things: tipping and sales tax. Tipping is neither expected nor required, and I have to say it feels liberating to not have to figure one out, worrying if the amount is appropriate. Similarly, no sales tax means what you see (on the price tag) is what you pay, no math required.

Safety

Growing up in SF, you learn that on the bus or BART you leave your newest toy in your bag and not out in the open for opportunists to see and grab. With the advent of smartphones and everyone carrying them around out in the open, this is a little different now, but one still has to bring street smarts when riding public transportation or walking around on the street. In Hong Kong, one needs no street smarts at all. One can be a smartphone zombie, keeping his head down towards his device, and still be safe.

This has always been true, and seems even more so now with the increased gentrification and new money coming into SF. The perception is that people are being driven out and have to resort to crime to survive, or perhaps because there are now more rich people here, it’s hunting season. Burglaries, robberies, shootings, and stabbings are reported every week just in our one neighborhood, let alone the entire city. I experienced crime first hand as a kid in SF, and I learned to be constantly vigilant because opportunists will prey on you if you appear weak or inattentive even for a split second. It’s a relaxing change being able to just let go in Hong Kong without needing to remember to keep aware of my surroundings all the time.

Another thing involving both safety and convenience is the 24-hour store. Here, opponents of 24-hour establishments will always cite crime as a factor, because it is. In Hong Kong, it’s a non-issue. I miss 24-hour McDonald’s delivery. I miss midnight hot pot. I miss being able to take a walk around the neighborhood in the middle of the night.

Race

I know this is a touchy subject, but for me one benefit of living in Hong Kong is that I’m finally a part of the racial majority. Say what you want about racial progress in the U.S., and especially the Bay Area, but there is still a long way to go when it comes to relations between races, and perhaps not necessarily between whites and minorities. Although we all live in close proximity to each other, we do tend to keep each other at arm’s length. Obviously I’m generalizing here, but it happens enough to bother me, happens enough to make me feel excluded.

This seems even more relevant now with the Black Lives Matter movement, police shootings, and the election on the news recently. It gets kind of tiring. The first time I experienced racial discrimination was in this country, and things have not changed much in 30 years. We love talking about it though, using code-words and politically correct rhetoric to make it seem like it’s a thing of the past. And that’s just overt racism, without considering the type that has been institutionalized, the kind you don’t consciously think about or even realize you’re practicing. Also, why does discussion of race in America only involve black and white, and very occasionally brown? I think I know the answer, but as a yellow person that doesn’t mean I can’t still feel marginalized.

In Hong Kong, where I’m part of the majority by a long-shot, race, like crime, is another non-issue. Don’t get me wrong, people in Hong Kong can be extremely racist, but at least they don’t talk about it all the time trying to pretend like it’s not there, and they don’t direct it towards me.

Food

This one’s sort of a combination of the above: convenience, race, and geography combine to give me easy access to food that I enjoy. For example, HK-style fast food like Fairwood and Cafe de Coral. McDonald’s delivery. Baked pork chop rice. Iced milk tea. Yunnan rice noodles. Beef brisket and tendon noodles. Fish ball noodles. On the most part these selections are available in the Bay Area, but one must go and seek them out. Here, one does not have to travel far to enjoy local cuisine.

To add to the above, while HK selections can mostly (no 雲南米線, sadly) be found in the Bay Area, the quality can be severely lacking. It’s like they know that they’re the only option so they put out shit food. I suppose it’s all relative; people in Hong Kong might argue that Cafe de Coral is shit food. I should also mention that I used the wrong words in “convenience, race, and geography”. They probably should be convenience, culture, and density.

To name a couple more, I really miss the fresh iced lemon tea from Yoshinoya in Fortress Hill, and the curry beef brisket (with steamed rice) at both Cafe de Coral and Fairwood.

Fairwood Beef Curry Brisket and Tendon
How not to get any work done after lunch – Fairwood’s Beef Curry Brisket and Tendon

Public Transportation

This one can be filed under convenience as well. There are so many different modes of transportation: MTR, taxi, bus, mini-bus, tram. Many routes are duplicated so that even if you miss a bus, another one, or a tram, or a mini-bus, are not far behind. Maybe I’m lucky because I live in a busy/convenient area, but I really like this aspect of HK.

Yes, I think a big part of this was that I lived in North Point, a super-convenient area with many overlapping lines. Contrast that with some of my relatives’ neighborhoods in Hong Kong and one will find that it can be just as bad as MUNI or BART (to their credit though, both MUNI and BART have continuously tried to improve). Nonetheless, Hong Kong’s public transportation system is still way better than the Bay Area’s. Even if you ignore frequency and timeliness, the cleanliness of HK transport destroys that of the Bay Area’s.

As mentioned before, riding on the upper deck of a bus is one of my favorite pastimes. This is something that I miss tremendously. I’ve tried sightseeing on MUNI buses, but it’s not the same and actually quite a difference. They feel claustrophobic by comparison.

Final Words

Being a person of two worlds can be a struggle. Juggling is something I’ve been doing ever since my family moved to the United States, and it seems to have gotten harder after living in Hong Kong as an adult. While it may seem like I’m just bashing America in this post about things I think Hong Kong does better, I can tell you that when I was living there I did plenty of bashing in favor of the USA. It sucks. I sometimes wish I came from only one world, born and raised in a single place, living my life out in that place, not knowing what’s outside, being blissfully ignorant. If you don’t know what you’re missing, then you can’t miss it, right?

Have a good night. 🙂

Prejudice

When I was in line to buy an Airport Express ticket today, there was a tourist in front of me doing the same thing, except this tourist spoke Mandarin and was obviously from the mainland. The clerk wasn’t particularly enthusiastic towards her. When it was my turn, I spoke in local HK-style Cantonese to him and there was a marked change in his attitude and behavior. It was almost like relief on his end, glad to finally be interacting with his own kind, and he was much more friendly towards me. To be completely honest, I was glad that he treated me this way. I experienced no majority guilt. I think I’ve mentioned it before; it’s nice to be part of the majority after being a minority for over two decades. I know what it’s like to be discriminated against.

The fact of the matter is, prejudice is everywhere and cannot be avoided. We may dance around the issue with political correctness, something that is superficial and invented by politicians in an effort to gain more votes, and we may think that prejudice in society is gone, but if we truly do think that then we are fooling ourselves. It is animal nature to be prejudiced. Lab mice who got electrocuted when they go after a certain food will start avoiding that food even when the electricity is turned off. When the news reports police discrimination time and time again, people learn to be wary around them. When a big percentage of crime is committed by a certain demographic, our awareness level increases whenever a member of that demographic enters our vicinity, even though rationally we know that not all of them are like that. This is millions of years of evolution, of learning how to survive. Fool me once, shame on you – fool me twice, shame on me.

As humans, we are (theoretically) able to suppress our animal urges to behave in a civilized manner. I do try to live my life in this way, treating all people, regardless of their race or class, in the same way. Sadly, many people think differently than I do. My problem with people has always been, what the fuck did I do to you for you to treat me in this manner? Every new face to me is a clean slate. I will give you the benefit of the doubt until you show me otherwise. Why can’t everybody be like this? I guess the answer is, see the paragraph above.

Why u mad?

Been having a lot of beers lately so I thought I’d go do some exercise at Victoria Park tonight. And by some, I really mean some. Gone are the days when it seems like I can stay there forever. I go maybe once every couple of weeks now, if that, and when I do my body can no longer perform as it did before. That’s the reality of having a day job.

Speaking of day jobs, I’ve always thought that basketball is a microcosm of life, and more specifically tonight, of work. You encounter a bunch of different characters. You encounter cronyism. You get people of different abilities. You all (at least on the surface) are trying to achieve the same goal. Unlike work, however, basketball is a game, and it’s supposed to be fun. So why did I feel annoyance at the end of the game? Despite losing, I did fairly well, shot over 50%, and scored a few buckets, and I was fine with that. I guess I’ll explain it from the beginning.

I touched upon this a long time ago, about race on the basketball court. Being in Hong Kong, I’ve been a part of the ethnic-majority for over two years now. I rarely experience racial discrimination like I occasionally did back in the U.S. Well, the first thing that happens when I step on the court is that the 4 non-Chinese guys don’t really want me on their team. They want one of their own. They start speaking in their language. Nice. This by itself doesn’t really bother me, I’ve encountered plenty of people of this ethnicity and I’m no longer surprised when they behave this way, but it did get the ball rolling towards annoyance.

Once the game starts, everybody’s getting a feel for each other, and if I recall correctly I actually make the first bucket. OK, great, seems like maybe we’ll get along fine. Of course, once the game gets going, things start exposing themselves to you, just like how it is at work. There seems to always be that guy who never runs back on defense, waiting for the cherry pick. It seems like none of the guys on my team are interested in defense. It also just happens that there’s a couple of guys on the other team who are over 6 feet tall, one of them with handles who can get to the rim at will (he was wearing an NYK Sprewell jersey, lol), and another, even bigger guy who is pretty much unstoppable in the paint. So, 5-on-4 (and that’s a very shaky 4) with two of the five being the aforementioned six-plus-footers.

I’m not too averse to playing harder on defense because my main goal tonight is to get in some exercise. That rolling ball of annoyance is just creeping along at a snail’s pace at this point. But then, some inexplicable shit starts happening. I finally get the ball from a teammate (as opposed to grabbing a loose ball or a rebound) and the first thing my teammates tell me to do is to pass it. Four guys on my team are yelling at me to give them the ball. I’m like “WTF?” but I continue to play within the flow of the game, trying to make the proper basketball decision. It continues to get more and more inexplicable. I have guys not playing any defense, period, demanding the ball from me as I’m bringing it down. I’m like fuck that shit, I’m taking it myself. I have some fun with my man before moving the ball (i.e. when I get tired from too much dribbling, haha), and then one of my teammates again comes up to me and says I need to move the ball. I wonder if he realizes that I’m running around on offense getting open only to watch him or his pals take shitty shots.

At work and in basketball, there sometimes comes a moment when you realize that nothing you do is going to change the situation, that it might be better to just stay in the corner and be quiet. I literally did this a few possessions later: I stopped running around and just parked myself in the corner, wide open. I then proceeded to watch the guy who just told me to move the ball get double-teamed on my side of the court, then lose the ball out of bounds. The next few offensive sequences consist of me running to the corner and standing there wide-open while my teammates proceed to turn the ball over.

One of my biggest beefs with basketball, work, and life, is hypocrisy. I can’t stand it. If you can’t do an equal or better job, or worse, you’re not even aware that you can’t do an equal or better job, don’t go around telling people what to do. It’s amazing how one guy can completely ignore the laziness and incompetence of his buddy (and himself) while criticizing the guy who hasn’t done anything wrong. All I saw was a bunch of guys jacking up shots and not playing defense, and they’re getting on my case for wanting to hold the ball longer when I finally get it? Fuck that, man. I’m perfectly fine with admitting when I play shitty and don’t deserve the ball but tonight was not one of those nights.

So this whole episode got me thinking about my annoyance (and sometimes anger) at stuff like this. My goal was to get some exercise. Did I really have to be annoyed by it? I don’t know the answer to that. Why do I get so annoyed by it? Is it because I get treated unfairly? But being treated unfairly happens all the time, it’s life not just for me, but for everyone. If the standard in life really is cronyism and nepotism (and one must really question whether this is not the case, seriously), why do I get angry at something that’s natural? Do I get angry when it rains, or when the sun comes out? Do I get angry because plants grow? I don’t like myself succumbing to this pet peeve.

Maybe one day I’ll analyze how I got to be this way. For now, it’s back to the grind, tomorrow. Good night. 🙂

Racism

Racism

Racism – n. 1 a doctrine or teaching, without scientific support, that claims to find racial differences in character, intelligence, etc., that asserts the superiority of one race over another or others, and that seeks to maintain the supposed purity of a race or the races.
2 any program or practice of racial discrimination, segregation, etc. based on such beliefs.

— Webster’s New World Dictionary, Third Edition

Introduction

In this day and age we are supposedly accustomed to different races and cultures, but can we really say that we are color-blind? The answer is a resounding no. I cannot say that I am color-blind; that is why I am creating this page. Some people say they’re not racist, that they don’t discriminate, that they don’t act with prejudice. Well, let me tell you something. Everyone is racist to some extent, whether or not they admit it. When we see a name, can we honestly say that we do not associate that name with an ethnicity? Chan, Wong, Chinese. Park, Kim, Korean. Yamaguchi, Yamamoto, Japanese. Rothenstein, Jewish. Young, white. You get the picture. This is just one of many examples that I want to talk about on this page. Please note that obviously this page is not and cannot be comprehensive, and that I’ve comprised examples through personal direct and indirect experiences. These are, afterall, my own opinions. Feel free to use the guestbook to provide feedback, or to add your own feedback. Also note that I am constantly adding to and updating this page — I add examples as I see/experience them. Thank you for visiting.

Stereotypes

We all have our stereotypes. Some are funny, others offensive. But why do stereotypes exist? Is it only a racial thing? I don’t want to try and answer why they exist — just know that they do. If you ask me if stereotypes are exclusively racial, then the answer is obviously no. But lets talk about the racial ones. Below are a few of the stereotypes that I’ve encountered for different ethnicities:

  • Chinese – Cheap and loud.
  • Korean – Smoke and drink all day.
  • Black – Big and lazy.
  • Latino – Stupid and dirty.

These are only a small selection of stereotypes to give you an idea of what I’m talking about. Although sometimes we may laugh at stereotypes (those about and not about our own race), we can’t deny that we use them. Sometimes, the act of using one is blatant, other times it is subtle. The bottom line is, they exist and we use them. Stereotypes are a form of discrimination, and as long as they exist, so will racism. I want to refer now to a personal experience that I’ve had regarding stereotypes.

Quite often I encounter stereotypes on the basketball court. Not all are racial, but many are. It is especially disconcerting when blacks, whites, or latinos think I can’t play just because I’m asian. I get the impression that they think no matter what, even if the asian schools their ass, the asian still can’t play. The asian got lucky. One time, I overheard a black man telling his black teammate after he fouled me that I “wouldn’t have made the bucket anyway.” That really pissed me off. From the beginning of the game I could tell that the black guy saw me as a joke or something worse. I made a pretty good move and scored in his eye and he said that the only reason I burned him was because I double dribbled, even though nobody agreed with him, not even his own teammates. It’s just really frustrating and flustering to know that you were dissed not because of what you did or how you acted, but because of the color of your skin and what you look like. On the same occasion, I learned that if you’re not black and everyone else on your team is, you’re never going to touch the ball because they’re simply never going to pass you the ball. Obviously this does not apply to all black/white/latino or so-called “American” people, but it does apply to some. And it applies often. After that experience I thought to myself about black people. Being the target of countless occasions of racism, prejudice, and discrimination, how could they do the same thing to someone else, knowing how frustrating it is? I just couldn’t understand it. But anyways, I’m gonna go on to another story.

Alright, in the summer of 1996 I was enjoying my vacation in good ol’ Hong Kong and one day my cousin and my sister and I were at the supermarket waiting to use a phone (in Hong Kong the supermarkets hook up people with phone calls) and finally it was our turn to use the phone. I had barely dialed the number when some white woman behind me started saying garbage like “Would you stop playing with the phone” and “Come on, I’m in a hurry” and all this other dumb stuff. So I turned around, looked at her, and then I totally chewed her out and showed her her place. haha yep, I was all “Damn if you were on the phone and I was waiting for you I’d be waiting for you. Sheeit, I had to wait to use this phone, so why don’t you wait?” And her dumbass was all threatening to get the manager so I was like “Go ahead and get the manager, I don’t give a hooty-nanny, and besides that, the manager will say I’m right!” So then I finally finished my call and the stupid bitch was like “thank you” in a hella sarcastic-ass tone. By then I was just like whatever and I just walked away. But this just goes to show how the woman thought that we were chinese and didn’t know how to speak english or even if we did, to resist. I’m pretty sure that she’s used to barely raising her voice and receiving all kinds of ass-kissing and so-called respect from chinese people. I mean, her face was in shock when I busted out with my U.S. fluent english. That felt hella good, but the stereotype still exists in Hong Kong that whites are superior to chinese. It makes my stomach turn when I see chinese folks totally act like they have no pride and kiss white-ass all day long. Ugh. And that, my friends, is another example of a stereotype.

Violence

When we talk about racism, one of the first things that comes to mind is violence. Racism unfortunately comes with violence a lot of the time, and it is unlikely that this will end anytime soon. This past week (week of June 8, 1998) a black man in Texas was dragged two miles on a rope behind a pickup truck by three white men and the authorities have the nerve to say that this incident was not racially motivated. Yeah right. Call me prejudiced, but the county is white, the sheriff is white, and the tattoos on the murderers speak white-supremacy. It is amazing that someone could actually say that this brutal crime was not racially motivated. I concede that I wasn’t there, and I don’t know all the details, but the entire situation just yells out “this was a hate crime!”. Speaking of violent hate crimes, I want to talk about someone named Vincent Chin. I read about his story in my Asian American Studies class, and what happened was that these white men had been laid off by their factory in Detroit (I think) and they blamed their layoff on Chinese people. Very upset and out of control, they beat Vincent Chin to death with a baseball bat. The proof was there, the eyewitnesses were there, and yet the murderers received little punishment. If the situation were reversed, that is, an Asian man killed a white man, what do you think would happen? The Asian man would probably be shot and killed by a cop at the spot. Speaking of which, there was this other Chinese man (I’ve temporarily forgotten his name) who had been laidoff, upset, and drunk. On that night, he went home and some neighbors called the cops because he was causing such a racket. When the cops came, he was swinging a broom around – nothing for the cops to be afraid of, right? Well, you know what the cops did? They pulled out a gun and shot him in the chest. As he lay dying on his own driveway, the cops restrained his wife (a registered nurse) who was begging to the cops to let her administer first aid. The cops continued to restrain her, and Wu (that was his name I think) died from excessive bleeding. The cops’ answer for pulling the trigger? They said that Wu appeared to know martial arts and was threatening them with it. Now what kind of shit is that? This was blatantly a case of excessive violence by the cops, but the part that pissed me off the most was the cops’ excuse. Just because an Asian man confronts you with a broom does not mean he knows “kung-fu”. Bastard. Maybe that should go in the stereotypes section, but it was violent so I put it here. That’s just my two cents for now. Maybe I’ll add more later. Byeeeeeeee!