Losing Perspective/Gaining Perspective

When I first got here, I looked at some other blogs about HK.  All of them petered out after a few months.  And *I* have been petering out too (my last post was a month ago!).  Part of it is the blogging aspect…it takes longer to write something worth reading than you’d think.  But the other part is losing perspective.

When you first arrive somewhere, your senses are overwhelmed; everything is novel — or aggravating; everyone you meet is new to you.  But after a while the pineapple bun just becomes your regular guilty pleasure, like the vegan berry scone I used to eat every day at Reverie in SF.  The people you meet whose life stories are fascinating become…your friends.  The places you discover to go running and walking — like Bowen Road park — become your regular running route.  It all starts to become ordinary life.

Does it make sense to blog about ordinary life?

Last night we went to a Chiu Chau restaurant with C.  It’s a tiny little labyrinth of a place down on Wellington Street in Sheung Wan.  Chauzhou is a place in Canton (Guangdong) Province.  Some of the characteristic dishes are oyster omelettes, poached goose with shallot-vinegar sauce, chicken with flash-fried morning glory (think that’s right…), crispy noodles with sugar and black vinegar, a different type of congee…  Definitely my cup of tea!  It reminded me of Filipino food.

But we were talking with C about visitors, cultural perspective, and the like — having had friends from the States visit recently.  And boom, hit a sensitive nerve…

We were talking about a tour guide, 30+ year resident of HK, fluent Cantonese speaker, being openly distainful of the so-called security guards at a historic site.  The guards shot all of us in the head with a body-temperature thermometer (theoretically for swine flu).  Anyway, our guide said a few inflamatory things that would have gotten him pulled out of line in a genuinely security-sensitive country to prove the point that these guards were only there because the government wanted to create jobs for them.  This guy is a bit edgy.

Well, C was totally offended.  “He should not be introducing people to this culture if he does not respect it.”


I agree that it is in poor taste to do something like that.  But here is another facet of the Eastern/Western divide.  We Westerners are much more comfortable with openly criticizing/ridiculing our own culture.  It’s definitely a form of losing face.  I think our tour guide considers HK to be *his* culture since HK is a melting pot of different influences and since he has lived, fully integrated, in the culture for so many years.  But his perspective towards authority is still totally Western.  Irreverence can be acceptable in the West.  I don’t really think it’s cool here.

We then said to C, this is the only culture we’ve visited where we felt our efforts to learn about the way things are done, to try to speak the language, to integrate (essentially), have been totally rebuffed.  And she said, “Well duh.”  Then (I’m paraphrasing) Westerners think that culture is something you’re invited into; that it’s a matter of hospitality and personal connection.  Chinese culture is something you learn.  You get it, or you get *in to* the culture, by learning, not just by enthusing.

Whoah.  That is something to chew on for a while.


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