My own strange culture shock, or: the annoying “China-Lite” expat

Right now I must be at the bottom trough of the expat “adjustment cycle:”

  1. initial euphoria
  2. irritability and hostility
  3. gradual adjustment
  4. adaptation

But rather than being irritable and hostile toward locals, I’m directing my annoyance at a thin slice of the expat community: the “China-Lite” Hong Kong expat. For the “China-Lite” expat, anything that has a strong whiff of actually being “Chinese,” is classed as “too local” and to be avoided.

These are the expats who’ve mentioned that a perfectly lovely small, kindergarten in Tai Po with classes in English and Mandarin is “too local” to send their children.

These are the expats who packed into the extremely cheesy, blue-lit Western bar in Sai Kung last Friday night when right around the corner was a huge temporary, outdoor auditorium with live Chinese Opera that could be watched for free. Nothing too rigid and fancy, people came and went as the pleased mid-show–so not much to lose even if it got boring. But why would the China-Lite expat go take a look when they could be doing the same thing they do every Friday night: drink in an expat bar. And besides that, it all sounds and looks “too Chinese-y.”

These are the expats who “don’t like Chinese food.” How can they live on the doorstep of China and just “not like Chinese food”? Have they tried all the kinds of Chinese food? Probably not, but they would rather stick exclusively to the bad faux-Mexican food at one of the Western restaurants and the occasional Thai meal.

Actual Chinese food

Hong Kong is easy. It is a cool city and it is so easy. You don’t have to bother to learn any Chinese to get around as many people speak English or can quickly track down someone else who does. You never have to figure out what you can make for dinner from the local markets, because you can buy the exact same food you bought at home. You don’t have to communicate with your cleaner using basic Chinese and body-language, because the cleaner is from the Philippines and speaks perfect English.

Yes, I am being an ass. An ass who spent 3.5 years muddling through life in Zhuhai, China and really enjoying eating all kinds of Chinese food, going to Chinese children’s’ playgroups, and learning Mandarin with a Cantonese twist from my cleaner. (And yes, to be fair and balanced, I did eat at Western restaurants and travel to Macau just to buy coffee and eat tortellini. Everyone does need a taste of home sometimes.)

My current mood must be some key step in the “adjustment cycle” of the long-term, serial expat: irritability and hostility toward other expats that one deems pathetic.

Yes, I have spent a long Friday night in Lan Kwai Fong, but not every Friday night.

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9 responses to “My own strange culture shock, or: the annoying “China-Lite” expat

    • Everyone has bad runs of days as an expat, but the folks that bitch all the time and never take advantage of the “local-ness” of the the place they are, are depressing.

  1. Be smug and remind yourself how much these schmuks are missing. Expats like these will always annoy you, so just try and avoid them as much as you can. As the others have observed unfortunately they can be found everywhere.

    • And because of these expats, I’ll take advantage of the fact that there is no wait list at the “too local” kindergarten! And plenty of seats at the outdoor Chinese opera, unlike the packed standing room only expat bar.

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