Honkers – come and have a play

22 Oct

Mount Parker hong kongIf you’re lucky enough to get accepted on the Japanese Exchange and Teaching (JET) programme – a one-way ticket to fun, adventure, intimate knowledge of the locals and alcohol-related liver damage – you’ll be treated to a seemingly endless parade of pre-and post-orientation seminars. The purpose of these sententious survival guides is to teach the naïve young uni grad of the dangers of culture shock. It goes something like this:

According to JET, culture shock forces individuals “to re-examine assumptions and social behaviours which were once thought absolute, and may cause discomfort, disorientation and emotional conflicts”. The four stages are as follows: initial euphoria (honeymoon); irritation and hostility (culture shock); gradual adjustment; adaptation and biculturalism (‘going bamboo’ as my granddad might have put it).

Now, the whole lot played out as predictably as a particularly bad Hollyoaks plot for the three years of my particular tour of duty, but here’s the thing – it’s not really happening in Hong Kong, which is a blessing and a massive disappointment.

The problem with Hong Kong is it’s one of the easiest places in the world in which to live. Once you’ve found somewhere to live (probably as expensive as a London flat but a bit smaller) utilities, internet, phone are all set up on the day. There’s no council tax and income tax is a famously low 17%. Ikea delivers and assembles furniture for an embarrassingly tiny fee. Hailable mini buses zip around the island for less than 50p, or you can get a real taxi for about a third of the price of a black cab in London. There are international supermarkets and authentic Western restaurants on every street corner. And great, cheap local Chinese hole-in-the-walls. The locals are at least on grunting terms with English. There are wonderful beach-side bars and sleepy villages, and more hiking trails than you can shake a stick at.

All of which was beginning to stress me out a bit, until I gave up trying to play this the Japan way – knuckle down at the local lingo, learn cultural no-nos: adapt, change, enjoy. It’s an international city state which prides itself on being all things to all people, which has a rich cultural history if you want it but won’t push it down your throat. Most Hong Kong Chinese would not like to be mistaken for a mainlander, and a lot of their difference comes from living in this cultural melting pot. That’s right, I just said melting pot.

In this spirit I ate a brunch of Eggs Benedict last Saturday, caught a £3 cab down the road a few miles to Quarry Bay and went on a stunning 10km hike across Hong Kong island – and was back in Central in time for several pints of cider and a steak sandwich down the pub. Looking for the difference can be exhausting and not much fun if you come to Honkers, enjoy it on your terms.

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