guest post by kai ma: top 10 things that anger me in asia

Aloha! I'm on vacation, taking a much-needed break from blogging for a bit. But it's all good, because I've enlisted the help of some great guest bloggers to keep things going around here. Here's Kai Ma on how she's been holding it down in Hong Kong.

As you probably know, Hong Kong is a lively and bustling metropolis, a former British colony and now "special administrative region" of China that is swarming with people and twinkling with lights. Back in May, I left Los Angeles to move to this island-city-state and I quickly became charmed by my new urban home. I eat mooncakes, ride a double decker tram called the "ding-ding," and live in a studio above a store called "Inducer: Sexy Lingerie." What I adore the most? My elderly Chinese neighbor who often wears a t-shirt emblazoned with the words "FUCK YOU" in huge block letters.

But there are many aspects of Hong Kong life that are frustrating: the humidity, small and overpriced apartments, cockroaches, poor umbrella etiquette, asthma-inducing air pollution -- the list goes on. So in the spirit of this blog, here's a list of the top reasons I'm an Angry Asian in Asia.

*Disclaimer: I really do like Hong Kong, sometimes, I even love it, but who wants to read about happy Asians?

The Top 10 Things That Anger Me in Asia

Flickr: 'Crowded in Causeway Bay' by River of Light
1) Slow walkers won't let me pass.
Hong Kong is crowded. The narrow streets are bursting at the seams, packed with adults, kids, pets, baby strollers, bundles, boxes and more. To get to point A to point B, you can't just walk. You must dodge, sidestep, zigzag and weave. But this is to be expected, right? As one of the most densely populated areas of the world, Hong Kong is practically synonymous with congested streets. But what's up with the slow walkers? This is Hong Kong, not Copacabana Beach. People have places to go and work to do. Yet I am constantly trapped behind people that wander the streets at a snail's pace.

These slow walkers include: 1) couples that create a barrier by linking arms or holding hands, 2) tourists on a midsummer stroll, 3) groups of friends that create a human wall on the sidewalk, 4) those walking while texting, 5) those walking while eating and 6) those who saunter in the center of the sidewalk, leaving no room for the person behind to pass from the left or the right. But the most insidious: "the stopper." This person will abruptly stop in the middle of the street, in front of an open elevator or subway entrance, or at the bottom of an escalator, and just stand there, thereby preventing the people behind from moving forward. Are they stopping to smell the flowers? Cuz the city smells like shit.

2) Racist expats slant their eyes at me.
I've only been here three months, and already, four non-Asian expats (in four separate occasions) have busted out the "slanty/chinky" eye gesture while conversing with me. All four did so in an attempt to be "funny." My usual response: "God, did you really just do that? Why?" Their answers range from the nonsensical: "Well, because I'm not Chinese," to the honest: "I dunno."

Then, there are the racist expats that are wasted and/or stoned off coke. My first night out at the clubs in Hong Kong, I was stuffed in an elevator with a mix of Asians and one very obnoxious, loud and inebriated non-Asian expat who started blabbering about "you people." Wow, really? Perhaps it's time for these racist expats to put in their relocation requests at Douchebag & Dickhead LLP.

3) People keep insisting that I am Chinese.
I am a U.S.-born Korean American, and my parents, both ethnically Korean, hail from what is now North Korea, but grew up in Seoul before immigrating to Baltimore. Translation: I am a full-blooded ethnic Korean. But in Hong Kong, many people believe my face looks more Chinese than Korean and because I have a Chinese sounding name, they keep informing me that I am "probably Chinese."

To ask about my ethnicity is not a ridiculous inquiry; my last name "Ma" is a rare Korean surname, but a common Chinese one. But several Chinese expats and English-speaking Hong Kongers (of all ages) have adamantly insisted that I am Chinese, even after I tell them I'm not. At times, this exchange feels uncomfortable; once, even confrontational. It's bizarre. And why does it matter? Does China really need to add one more person to its population of 1.3 billion?

Flickr: 'Sign in bathroom stall' by Safety Superhero4) Everyone seems to be in digestive distress.
Could it just be my office building and the cafes and restaurants that I frequent? The bathroom stalls are constantly filled with people suffering from stomach problems and/or constipation. They remain on the toilet forever. I wait for my turn for several minutes -- even longer -- at least a few times per week.

At this point, I don't care about the unfortunate sounds or smells associated with digestive turmoil. I just want to urinate. I feel for my new Hong Kong brethren with gastrointestinal issues, I do. But there's a queue out here, so can y'all just buy some laxative and call it a day?

5) HSBC is certainly not "the world's local bank."
Expats who don't speak Cantonese or Mandarin will most likely open an account at HSBC because it's an international bank and the staff speaks English. But unless you can deposit gobs of cash, your banking options are very limited. The queues are class-based: one short line for rich people, one long line for paycheck-to-paycheck people. I can't wire money into my U.S. bank account or use my ATM card until the pins and codes required arrive via snail mail. Despite repeated requests for these very important numerals, I have yet to receive one piece of mail. When I call, I can never reach a human but rather, get stuck in a vortex operated by an automated female voice with a faux British accent.

But the most maddening HSBC-specific quirk? To complete any transaction with a teller, you have to sign your name on a mini-monitor. If the signature doesn't match the way you signed your name when you opened the account, you have to keep signing until it "matches." I understand that this is a security precaution, but after five failed attempts to reproduce my own signature, I will tearfully say to the teller: "I am me. I am Kai Ma. Here is my passport. Here is my state-issued ID. I don't remember how I signed my name." The teller's response: "Please try again."

6) Americans yell at the locals.
Non-Asian tourists and expats, out of a sense of entitlement, will yell at waiters, service providers or cashiers for not immediately understanding English. The other day at Starbucks, a man in a fanny pack, who sounded American, yelled: DO YOU UNDERSTAND ENGLISH? ICED VENTI MOCHA. MOW-CAH. It is an awful thing to witness, and surely, this happens in the States, too (during my years as a waitress in New York, plenty of irked diners would angrily ask me if I spoke English, when the real problem was, I simply couldn't hear what the prick had ordered).

In Hong Kong, the Queen's English is definitely not flowing from everybody's mouths, but the language is widely understood. This is what makes this behavior even more infuriating. That poor Starbucks staffer probably does speak English, just not as fluently as the monolingual MF that is yelling at him. MOW-CAH. What language is that?

Flickr: 'Old lady from Hong Kong under the rain' by Raniero Corsetti Giusti di Ripalunga
7) Old people yell at me and I have no idea why.
Before I moved here, my Cantonese-speaking friends, many who are Chinese American and/or Hong Kong natives, warned me that the language can sound harsh -- even jarring and raucous -- to the untrained ear. The intonations and volume associated with Cantonese can make it sound like people are pissed off and shouting, when in reality, they're just discussing the weather or Justin Bieber's last tweet. But this example has nothing to do with the language. Old people literally keep yelling at me. Perhaps they think I speak Cantonese because I am Asian, or feel I should? Oddly enough, in South Korea, old people yell at me, too.

Flickr: 'Stop' by Pinelife8) The jackhammer is the soundtrack of my life.
Most cities suffer from noise pollution, but in Hong Kong, the sawing, drilling and digging is relentless. Apparently, construction and demolition are not supposed to occur on Sundays, but the site outside my apartment never got that memo. The awful crunch of shattering concrete pours through my bathroom window, while a completely different set of construction workers hammer away across the street. Seven days a week, I hear a mechanical whirring sound, but I have no idea where it comes from. The jackhammer, in particular, is perpetual.

9) Women stuff their faces with carbs and mysteriously stay skinny.
I see it all the time: women the size of toothpicks slurping down noodles, devouring sweet buns and gorging on white rice. Last weekend, I sat across a slim woman who inhaled an entire pizza in front of my mortified face. It is possible to adopt a low-carb, organic and leafy diet in Hong Kong, but the Western-style grocery stores are overpriced. Therefore, the affordable and practical options boil down to noodles, dumplings, steam buns and rice. Now, I'm not saying I'm a big girl at all, but my new carb-heavy munchies come with consequences. Last week, the top button of my shorts popped off and since, I have a greater appreciation for elastic waist skirts. Yet I am surrounded by scores of size zero females (with waistlines I would kill for) that are eating dumplings by the fistful. How do they do this? And how can I learn their ways?

10) Dripping air conditioners are attached to most of the buildings.
As I walk outside, the drips land on my head.

Kai Ma is a blogger for TIME and the former editor-in-chief of KoreAm. She is definitely not Chinese.

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