Here's a new idea. When I write, I always find myself relentlessly Googling things for my characters--quirks, usually depending on the job. But I wondered if it would be helpful if I wrote a Settings Primer to the different places I visited, just in case anyone wanted it. So without any further ado, here's a quick primer of things you need to know when you want to set your story in Hong Kong. With pictures. I've been going in and out of Hong Kong since I was a little girl, and the city has changed massively since I first started going. It's become a powerhouse, a place where westerners can come and be fascinated by Asia without feeling too alienated. Most people speak English, and it's impossible to take a walk down the street without seeing a Filipino. Here are some things to consider when you want to set your story in Hong Kong.
Likely Hangout Places: Shopping Malls, small cafés and busy, trendy restaurants.
Modes of Transportation: MRT or cars only if they're rich (and there are a lot of rich people in HK)
Languages: Cantonese, English, Mandarin
Likely Living: in apartment buildings, but size varies.
Quirks and Habits
1. People either walk or take the MRT. The Ferry is nice too.
There are only two kinds of private vehicles you'll see in Hong Kong. There are Alphards or Alphard type cars for those who have drivers, and those who have sports cars. If you drive around Hong Kong in a car, you usually end up stuck in traffic. The city is forever in construction and in construction delays, so the traffic can get bad. Plus parking is hard to come by, and the driver is on the right side of the car. Having a character suddenly drive a car in HK when he comes from Manila will be implausible.
Everyone else takes the MRT or the buses or walks, which is incredibly convenient, and not so bad (unless you're walking in Wan Chai/Upper levels, which can get hilly). Hong Kong drivers can get crazy reckless, and taking the free airport shuttle will make you scared for your life because you're sliding around the seats.
The ferry that crosses from Kowloon to Hong Kong (main land) is cheap and convenient. Tourists and locals alike still take it. It's not uncommon to see locals race to the gangplank while the gates are closing like an action film!
Hong Kong people will have no qualms jaywalking or walking just before the light turns green. It's part of their incredibly fast pace, which you'll have to learn to keep up with when you're there.
2. The customer is always wrong.
Don't get me wrong, I love the food in Hong Kong. It's very rare that you go somewhere and regret your restaurant choice. That being said, Hong Kong is generally known for having very rude staff. I've experienced this first hand.
My sister and I were in a not so crowded restaurant sharing a small table. When we saw a bigger table for four was available, we asked if we could move. The waitress just gave us a look and said, "this is a very busy place. I'll ask people to sit in your table." Then their servers watch everyone like vultures to make sure the tables are instantly cleared and whoever is sitting there doesn't have a foot to stand on.
Din Tai Fung also has a sign that says they have the right to kick you out if you stay there for more than 45 minutes. Sometimes you ask them for something they don't know (like when I asked where the CR was once) and they'll just give you the strangest look. It's not so bad, but if you're Filipino, you get surprised at their brusque attitudes.
3. It's a toilet, not a CR.
This is in general for China. When I ask for the 'bathroom' 'CR' or 'comfort room' they always have no idea what I'm talking about. But say 'toilet' or 'WC' they point you in the right direction. It's also possible to stumble across hole-in-the-floor toilet seats, but not in Hong Kong.
4. Most people can speak English. Sort of.
While the language barrier exists, it's not so bad in Hong Kong. Most people generally have a basic grasp of English, so it's just a matter of catching particular quirks in words or accents. Accents can get incredibly heavy, but they don't mind repeating what they say until you understand. People generally address you as 'Missy' regardless of gender, and it's not rude to call your servers the same thing.
5. It's all malls.
Much like Manila, Hong Kong is chock a block full of malls. Hotels rent out their lower floors for retail shops, and train stations have exits that actually get your straight to the mall. It makes for a cooler walk when you're commuting though.
If you have any questions on making Hong Kong a setting for your book (or if it's the right setting for you), leave a comment below! <3 I have giveaway codes for my short story Up All Night set in Hong Kong too! Leave a comment so I can send the code your way!