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Big Red’s Guide to Hong Kong – weather, people and money

This is a no-nonsense guide to Hong Kong, written by Big Red; a Scotsman in temporary hot and sweaty exile in the far east. Big Red’s opinions don’t necessarily reflect those of Colin’s Travel Guides. Well… actually, they do, especially those relating to cheap beer. Enjoy!


Hong Kong – The General Advice Bit

Weather

Hong Kong at Night

Hong Kong at Night

Apparently there are 5 days a year when it drops below 10 degrees, and these are usually in Jan or Feb, although you can cop it in December – so bring a jumper and an umbrella. Otherwise expect it to be like Edinburgh on a nice week in late spring/early summer.

People are rude. You often just need to ignore it, and don’t take it personally. I think it’s because of the density – if you try to be polite to everyone you’ll spend so long holding doors open and shuffling around people on the pavement that you’ll never get anywhere. Service in shops and restaurants and stuff is generally efficient, sometimes polite and rarely friendly. Don’t take it personally, it’s not because you aren’t Chinese. Everyone is rude to everyone. There are a lot of tourists about, mostly from the mainland. They are, if anything, ruder, and don’t be surprised if you see them taking photos while you enjoy a beer in a bar. Gweilos (white devils) going out and getting hammered seem to hold the same fascination for them as pandas do for us. Tour buses actually stop at the central booze street to let mainlanders get off and photograph the westerner’s debauched antics.

Tipping

Almost all bars and restaurants charge a 10% “service charge”. This isn’t actually a tip, its just a ten per cent mark up on the bill that goes in the boss’s pocket. If you are feeling generous you can tip on top of this (I get the feeling this is sort of expected if you live here as you should know the service charge isn’t really a service charge) but… YOU are stupid Gweilos and are not expected to know this – so take advantage and don’t tip! Apparently staff get full wages and don’t rely on tips in the same way our poor American cousins do, so no-one’s going to spit in your food if you don’t tip. Leave taxi drivers any change but don’t over-do it – they’ll just look at you confusedly and try and give the money back.

Safety

There is no crime in Hong Kong. You may get groped on the MTR if you are lucky, but that’s about it. The local polis are pretty tolerant but apparently give hammered pale-faces short shrift so if you’re completely buckled and spewing get in a cab and go home. Don’t piss on the street, don’t make a racket, don’t pick fights.

Burds

Purely for the attention of our single readers. Most western burds are either here on a dependants visa (i.e. married) or here on secondment so see themselves as high powered career types and, I would assume, generally have pretentiously high standards, so probably best avoided. Local burds are generally unimpressed by Gweilos who are seen as boorish drunkards. On Sundays Hong Kong’s huge population of foreign domestic workers get released from their tiny cells and congregate in Central (Phillipinos) and Victoria Park in Causeway Bay (Indonesians). I assume/have heard they then go out in search of foreign meat in Wanchai afterwards, so maybe worth a look. There’ll probably be a bunch of backpackers about round new year too.

Language

Cantonese is the local dialect and is thoroughly impenetrable. Even the universal greeting of “2 beers please” is far beyond my ken. Most people in the (Western biased) service industry speak good English, but don’t expect it from cab drivers or waitresses in local noodle shops or dim sum houses. All public signs are in Chinese and English, although some menus in particularly local spots will only be in Chinese. I’ve been visiting these with my local colleagues so have a small pile of receipts with the Chinese names of tasty stuff on to show the waitress in lieu of ordering like a proper grown up. Don’t worry about just pointing at what someone else is having if you can’t get your point across – the good thing about everyone being rude is that everyone is rude and so doesn’t care if you rude too. No-one will bat an eyelid.
Image Credit: Joncrel Flickr

3 Responses to “Big Red’s Guide to Hong Kong – weather, people and money”

  1. You don’t “have” to do anything. If you stiff a server, you’re not going to go to jail or anything. However, it is considered rude not to. The Government acknowledges gratuities (tips) as a legitimate form of income. A server has to pay taxes on every table they make. The tip you provide helps them cover that tax. If you stiff them, it’s the same as stealing from them. You also have to remember that servers make about $2.15/hour. Would you put up with terrible, selfish, impatient, whiny people for two dollars an hour? Then again, if you become notorious for not tipping, you will get no service. The servers will let you wait and complain while they tend to customers who DO tip. That’s the way of it. @Sugar: “How dare they” for having a tip jar? I don’t understand why a tip jar would deserve a “how dare they.” I manage a restaurant, and the cashiers in to-go have a tip jar. It actually didn’t start out as one. It was a decoration piece that corporate wanted us to put up, and the customers started throwing their change and dollars in there. Was I supposed to tell the customers to stop? No one is forcing them to throw money in there. There are plenty of customers who do/don’t. It doesn’t mean they get bad service, and it doesn’t mean my cashiers are expecting anything. You really shouldn’t use blanket statements when you do not know every single service employee in the world.

  2. Tipping in Germany and tipping in some other countries, such as the United States, are totally different. In Germany, waitresses are paid more and so the tips are smaller compared to the USA. Nevertheless, the 5-10% rule of thumb still applies. If you want to tip less (according to some advice on the net) be prepared to appear stingy. Credit Cards: While Germany is a leader in many areas of technology, it is decidedly not so in credit card acceptance. When eating out, visiting any store or trying to pay for just about anything, don’t be surprised if the response to your credit card is “Nein.” Most Germans still settle in cash or rely on debit cards called “EC” or “electronic cash” cards which are not logo-bearing and do not work like credit cards. While some hotels, restaurants and other venues will take credit cards, by far the majority does not. When shopping or consuming anything, it’s always wise to ask in advance, otherwise you’ll be expected to pay in cash. Personal checks are unknown in Germany and Traveller’s Checks often carry a substantial “service charge” for cashing them.

  3. Why do so many Hispanics speak Spanish in public? Because it’s their native language. (Major DUH!) If they are conversing with another Spanish-speaker, how can that be misconstrued as being “rude”. Eavesdropping on other people’s conversations, however, IS (rude, if it needs to be spelled out)! I live in Belgium where the official languages are French and Dutch (with a pocket of German-speakers in the east corner of the country). When I am in public (or elsewhere) with my friends (of many nationalities) and family, I speak English because that is the language I speak best. In shops and at school, I speak Dutch (after a fashion) or French because that IS the lingua franca here. If you “must” speak Spanish to get service, maybe you are shopping at the wrong stores. Go where you can freely express yourself.

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