19 November 2019
Hong Kong's notorious work-life imbalance contributes to the impressive night scene in the city's central business district. Photo: Yiling/Flickr
Hong Kong's notorious work-life imbalance contributes to the impressive night scene in the city's central business district. Photo: Yiling/Flickr

Hong Kong colleagues in the eyes of non-locals

Thanks to a steady diet of TVB dramas, many mainlanders new to Hong Kong see it as a city of dizzying skyscrapers, vibrant nightlife, fancy homes and other trappings of a modern, cosmopolitan metropolis.

Not that they don’t have those sights at home, but, as they say, the grass is always greener on the other side of the border.

After the novelty of the place fades away, newcomers may discover that on top of the usual hurly-burly of city life, the people here are given to fierce polemics.

Those who come here to study try to delve deeper into the community, but often their attempts don’t yield much; they are likely to be ignored by their local classmates most of the time, as if the two groups move in separate parallel universes without any intersection, though they attend classes under the same roof.

That is why to many mainlanders and other newcomers, they only start to understand Hong Kong in person when they start to work in the city, bit by bit, through their local colleagues.

Here are some common, interesting idiosyncrasies of Hong Kong’s working class in the eyes of non-locals:

Although they may be yawning, most people remain dedicated to their job and are hard-working.

They write e-mails and reply to them even in the wee hours.

They work in the day and attend evening classes after gulping down supper at a fast-food joint.

They never jump a queue, even when waiting to use the toilet.

Working in sleek, airy office towers in Central is a social status symbol, no matter how far away they live.

They are keen to collect coupons and vouchers from free newspapers.

They maintain a tiny wardrobe in the office as the place is chilly all year round, thanks to the air-conditioning system turned at full blast.

Even a stock broker in an executive suite likes to use a backpack for functionality.

Everyone is poker-faced or zombie-like in their office cubicles, unless when swapping gossips in the pantry.

They’re also eager to mock their boss in Cantonese if the man in charge is a “gweilo” or expat.

They like to spend the weekend unwinding in Taiwan or Thailand and may have visited Seoul more times than Tin Shui Wai in the past year.

They always share snacks or souvenirs when coming back from trips overseas.

Comparing or bragging about one’s jogging miles is always trending on social platforms.

If you are not a dedicated runner or do not work out once in a while, you’re considered out of sync with the rest of the world.

No need to be formal when talking to your supervisor, as long as you don’t forget to use his English name.

In fact, long-time colleagues may still know you only by your English name.

Office ladies on a diet can sustain themselves with just a few sandwiches or chocolate bars, but coffee, lots of it, is what they can’t do without.

Privacy is always the priority, and it’s perfectly normal to work with someone for years without knowing where they live or if they are single or married.

Work-life balance is a myth, and having supper at 9 p.m. is nothing unusual.

Hongkongers who remain in the office after their official working hours are the unsung heroes who keep the wheels of commerce and industry turning in the city, and tourists who marvel at the resplendent scene when gazing up at Hong Kong’s skyscrapers at night may not realize that the gay lights signify the many wage earners who are working overtime.

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EJ Insight writer