By Assunta Ng
I left Hong Kong more than four decades ago. Each time I return to my hometown, it continues to surprise me with innovations. Seattle can learn from it, too.
Creative Chinese food and prosperous hours
Hong Kong has great food, and not only Chinese food. If you know where to eat, you can find delicious dishes at reasonable prices. I made it a point to tell my relatives and friends that I didn’t want to dine in a fancy place. Just find a decent eatery for lunch and conversation.
A good place for lunch is usually a dim sum restaurant. Your reaction is probably, “Don’t you get tired of dim sum?” Not when Hong Kong Chinese restaurants have such a variety that you won’t repeat the same kind of food, even if you eat it seven days in a row. I experienced 13 restaurants in 8 days while I was in Hong Kong.
For instance, take chicken feet. I don’t want chicken feet cooked the way they do in Seattle. I enjoyed the creative ones in Hong Kong, such as stewed chicken feet with peanuts, boiled chicken feet with salty ginger, and chicken feet soup.
Another example is cheong fun (wide noodles). In Seattle, you can order cheong fun with barbecued pork fillings, shrimp, or beef. In Hong Kong, the pork, shrimp, and beef are combined into one order of cheong fun. Narrow-minded restaurateurs would tend to think, “Why should I combine the ingredients when the customers could have ordered three dishes instead of one?” But that’s the reason why I single out this restaurant and am likely to patronize it again when I go back. You have to think from the customer’s point of view to be successful.
One of my favorite restaurants serves both East and West menus. Hong Kong folks call them Chinese-style cooking for Western food. It could imply a piece of steak is marinated with soy sauce. They offer reasonable prices and fast service.
At Taikoo district, a restaurant next to a skating rink, I picked a spaghetti dish with five huge prawns in tomato sauce and a piece of garlic toast. It cost only $8 US and it’s enough for two people. The restaurant also serves wonton noodles.
The average Hong Kong restaurants attract budget-conscious customers (especially retirees) with a tea time service (after 2 or 3 p.m.). You might think Hong Kong’s tea time service is similar to a Seattle restaurant’s happy hour. Not really. Happy hour provides a limited menu, such as appetizers and drinks. But in Hong Kong, you get 40 to 50 percent off the marked price for their full menu. Often at 1:30 p.m., you will see lines at Hong Kong restaurant doors. Obviously, their busy hours are extended way beyond their regular lunch hour. So are their profits.
No smoking in the park
I thought Seattle was more advanced than Hong Kong in its smoking policy, with smoking being banned in restaurants. No, Hong Kong is. I couldn’t believe Hong Kong could pass a smoking ban in public, including restaurants and parks, considering that it has tons more smokers than in Seattle. And Hong Kong has a population of 7 million.
The park is posted with “no smoking” signs with heavy penalties listed for violators — as much as $300 US.
Hong Kong has built numerous mini city parks with trees, sitting areas, and kids’ play corners. I visited many of those for my leisure walks and to observe if there were sneaky smokers. There weren’t.
Shopping paradise vanishes
My friend asked me if I bought any new clothes in Hong Kong.
“Only two,” I replied. To spend time with my mom who loved to shop, I bought items to please her.
The vast number of Chinese mainland tourists, who buy all the famous brands, have created high prices for Hong Kong’s goods. Most people love the business they get from Chinese tourists, but they criticize them behind their backs for their bad manners and rude behavior in public, such as cutting in line and yelling at the wait staff in restaurants.
Frankly, it’s much cheaper to shop in the United States than in Hong Kong.
Don’t even go to Hong Kong department stores. My jaw dropped when I saw the price tags. I will never pay that kind of price for normal clothes. Some of the expensive items aren’t even pretty. So I ended up shopping at flea markets — women’s streets at North Point and Causeway Bay. Their clothes cost slightly less than sale prices at Macy’s. Much of the merchandise is made in Korea and China.
Housing not for the poor
I had an opportunity to visit low-income housing in Hong Kong. It’s about $95 US to rent a 170 sq. ft. apartment. You might think I made a mistake — 1,700 sq. ft. perhaps. No, 170 sq. ft. is doable for a family of two or three in Hong Kong.
You will find a bathroom with a toilet, sink, shower, and washing machine half the size of a U.S. one. Everything is small and designed to fit. Also, a bedroom allows only one tiny bed. The rest of the space is for a little bunk bed on top, and underneath is shelf space.
No wonder restaurants and retail stores are always packed in Hong Kong — because people want to get out of their confined homes.
My relative’s friend, who lives in one of those diminutive boxes with her daughter, considers herself lucky to live in government-subsidized housing. There’s a long waiting list in every district. Only one catch: You can’t be at the bottom of society to apply for housing. Applicants need to have about $25,000 US in their bank account to be qualified. Why? The government needs to ensure the tenants have money to pay rent.
Incredibly low medical cost
One day, my mom had stomach pain, so I took her to a government hospital. After I bucked the nurse and a three-hour wait in a room full of moaning patients who looked like they might die any minute, a doctor finally checked on her. One of her ribs was cracked. The total cost of an x-ray, medicine (pain killers), and doctor’s fee was $100 HK, less than $13 US.
Wow! My three hours of suffering (waiting) was worth it. A regular Hong Kong doctor would likely charge us more than $700 US.
That’s something Obamacare should learn from Hong Kong, how the government can afford to do it so inexpensively. The only requirement is that a patient needs to be a resident with a Hong Kong I.D. card.
Hong Kong people love to read gossip and rumors. So the press cooks up a lot of it to feed the readers — things the American papers wouldn’t even care to take a glance at. Unfortunately, some readers think the stories are true.
A false report saying that U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke had an affair was printed in most of the Hong Kong Chinese papers, right after he announced his resignation. Only the South China Morning Post said it was probably not true in its headline. The other papers printed it as if it was a fact. It was all over the web, too. I am glad this story didn’t make it in American media. The American public is much smarter than that.
My eight days in Hong Kong might’ve been short, but it was an adventure to witness how different it is now from the time I grew up, when it was a British colony, to its current status as part of China. (end)