Sunday, January 13, 2013

Hong Kong Pet Peeves

As I fluctuate between a state of optimistic enthusiasm for being in a new place and an opposing state of cynical frustration with the absence of the comforts of home, I have been taking a mental tally of the things about Hong Kong that are undebatedly obnoxious (at least for an ex-New Yorker).  Don't get me wrong, I love it here.  I really do. And there will be a yang to this yin post, filled with all the wonderful things about Hong Kong that make it quite possibly one of the best cities in the world.  But today, the glass is half empty -- or at least I'm in a silly enough mood to laugh at the fact that the glass is half empty, so here we go.

  • People in Hong Kong do not understand the concept of walking in straight lines.  Nor do they seem capable of comprehending how to walk faster than... I don't know, how quickly a baby crawls.  The sidewalks are narrow, there are millions of people everywhere, and on the worst days it feels they are all conspiring to prevent you from walking at a normal person's pace.
  • As a lactose intolerant individual, I thought I would have it easy moving to Asia.  However, the lack of dairy in native Asian food has somehow translated into an entire culture that simply does not understand the concept of cheese.  When dealing in non-Asian cuisines, even if a menu seems to list all of the ingredients in a dish (e.g. Whole wheat Pasta with Tomato, Roasted Vegetables, Basil, Oregano, Salt, Monosodium Glutamate), the unspoken rule is to list all ingredients except for cheese.  They actually even take this a step further and when directly asked, "Does this dish have cheese on it?"  The consistent answer is "Cheese? No."  I don't even know why I bother to ask, because without fail the requested dish will be covered in shredded mozzarella.  Or cream cheese.  Or melted butter. 
  • For a place that is world renowned for ridiculously high levels of pollution, where it is nearly impossible to dispose of your household recyclables separately from the everyday trash, it is quite interesting to find that "saving the environment" is still frequently used as a means of modifying consumer behavior.  Two prime examples:
    • There are two elevators on that service every floor in my apartment building, and on each floor there is a laminated sign between them that says "Please don't press both elevator button [sic].  It will pollute the air and ruin the environment."  Really?  Is that how that works?
    • They strongly encourage people to bring their own bags when buying groceries.  This is done by charging customers $0.50HKD (~six cents in USD) for each bag.  They also have apparently trained the check-out people how to look incredibly disgusted every time you ask for a bag.  If you do have the balls to ask for one, they will emphasize how expensive it is and they they will have to charge you for it.  Then, they will proceed to try to place an absurd amount of items into the one bag, forcing you to, yet again, publicly claim your place in the "Environment Haters Hall of Fame" by explicitly asking them to split your copious amount of fragile, breakable, somewhat heavy items into two separate bags.  
  • Speaking of elevators, people in Hong Kong constantly seem to be conspiring to trap you in them by immediately rushing to enter the exact second that the doors open, without taking a moment to allow you to exit.  It's as if they are afraid that a moment's hesitation could result in them getting left behind.  
  • No matter what you are buying in Hong Kong, you will get at least two separate pages of receipts for your purchase.  It doesn't matter if you go to the grocery store and you buy just the bag, they will still give you two receipts for it.  This results in a deceptively fat wallet that I love to pretend is thick from cash but is really just teeming with wasted paper verifying each and every mundane purchase you've made over the past days, weeks, and months. 
  • Furthermore, in order to make 100% sure that you don't happen to walk off without both of your meaningless receipts, they hold onto your credit card and/or change until the very last second of the transaction. This means that all in this final moment, you are bestowed with your purchased items, your receipts, your change and/or your card.  Consequently, after you have been twiddling your thumbs for minutes while they verify your payment and print your detailed transaction records, you suddenly have three things to put away at once and are also already obnoxiously in the way of the next customer.  It seems quite odd and inefficient for a place that has managed to perfectly streamline most other quotidien processes.
  • Happy Hour pricing does not do your wallet any favors and also blatantly encourages alcoholism.  Instead of the typical "half price!" promos that I've seen everywhere else in the world, they give you "two drinks for the price of one!" and prohibit you from sharing.  At first, I willingly admitted defeat, thinking that this is actually quite smart since you're pretty likely not to ask for the second one anyway -- but they give you both at once.  Let me tell you, when you're trying to make new friends, there's no better way to make a first impression than to be double fisting at a bar at 5pm on a weekday.

Alright, I think that's enough ranting and raving for now.  I'm sure I'll be adding to and adapting this list as time goes on.  Sure, these are all obviously tiny details in one's day that are not worth getting frustrated over.  But that is precisely why I wanted to share them -- to identify them, acknowledge them, and embrace the absurdity of the concept that they could potentially ruin an otherwise overwhelmingly amazing experience.