You don’t move to a foreign country where most people look different than you and stay for very long if you can’t put up with mild racism. I always expected there to be racism in China, but assumed that Hong Kong would suffer less from this being an “international city” (whatever that means) and a former British colony. It doesn’t. It’s worse. One would also think that the novelty of people looking different than you would have worn off here. It hasn’t.
In this post, I’m going to share a couple stories of racism I recently encountered in Hong Kong. This isn’t meant to be a complaint but instead to let people know it happens.
Flat in Tai Po
I had a flat tire driving north on the Tolo Highway near Tai Po last week. A flat on car is no big deal - pop on a spare and you’re good to go. On a motorcycle, it’s at best a good scare and at worst, extreme pain ad disfigurement followed by death. My vehicle went from being a gasoline powered bicycle to something more like a gasoline powered unicycle. The main goal in such a situation is to avoid falling over and getting pummeled by the speeding tons of metal surrounding you on all sides while easing over to the breakdown lane and out of harm’s way.
When I finally managed to seek shelter in the V shape shoulder between an entrance ramp and the main expressway, alive, in one piece with no injuries, I was rewarded with the realization that motorcycles don’t have spare tires.
I tried calling a number of towing companies. I started in English and got “Sorry” and a hang up. Then I tried in Mandarin with similar responses. Out of ideas, I called the non-emergency number of the Hong Kong Police in Tai Po. I tried speaking in English with the officer than answer, but after I explained the situation, he would say “Go on” even though I had finished explaining it. It was clear that he wasn’t understanding what I was saying. So I asked him if he spoke Mandarin. I re-explained my situation in Mandarin and he immediately understood the problem I was having. He told me not to worry, to make sure that I am safely off the road and to hold tight while they sent police over to help me out.
I got another call a couple minutes later from what would turn out to be the two cops who came to rescue. When they arrived on the scene, the first question wasn’t about my near brush with death or why I was hiding behind construction barrels, but “Are you mixed race?” Not exactly the first question I would expect out of the mouth of the police in a place that claims to be Asia’s World City.
The Wrong Type of Foreigner
I spent a few days exploring village house housing options around Hong Kong. Each trip to a real estate agent went something like this:
Me: “I’m interested in village houses.”
Agent: “Just you? Living alone?”
Agent: “Most village house landlords won’t rent to your type: Foreigners…But you’re not like them. You’re white. Hmm…let me see what I can do.”
Then the agent would head for the phone.
Agent: “Hello? Mrs. Wong, house rented yet? Would you rent to a foreigner? Oh, Ok then.”
Agent: “Hello? Mrs. Ho, house rented yet? Would you rent to a foreigner? This one isn’t like those ones. He’s white. Hey, what nationality are you?”
Me: “I’m American”
Agent: “He’s American. Has a work visa. Ok then, I’ll bring him over to look at the place.”
After a couple days of various combinations of this discussion, I figured out that the foreigners that landlords didn’t want to rent to are those from South Asia and Africa…basically anyone that isn’t white or East Asian looking.
In the end, I decided that I wasn’t really interested in living so far from the MTR and having to drive everywhere anyways.