Little Hong Kong Differences

I’ve been back from my trip to Hong Kong for a lit­tle over a month now. Here are some lit­tle dif­fer­ences I’ve noticed between there and here.


Space is at a pre­mi­um in Hong Kong, so park­ing spots are tiny. Most cars have fold­ing side-mir­rors, and prox­im­i­ty sen­sors that beep faster the clos­er you are to some­thing when back­ing up. Vans and SUVs have mir­rors on the back win­dows that lets a dri­ver see the back bumper through the rear-view mir­ror. That way, you can squeeze into a space with­out any guess work, although it takes about three or four turns, Austin Powers style.

Parking sensors

Some park­ing lots also have these lights above the spots that let peo­ple know if a car is parked in the space — green means it’s avail­able. That way, you can see what spots are free with a quick glance, instead of dri­ving around and hunt­ing.

Taking care of the elderly

Workout area

In the parks, there are work­out areas for the elder­ly. They include things like Gazelles, bench step­pers, and wheels you can rotate for flex­i­bil­i­ty. This is so awe­some. Canada should have some­thing like this. My grand­ma used come to this park to work out before she had colon can­cer.

Bench stepper station

Fitness guide

How cool is it that the sym­bol they use is the sil­hou­ette of some­one doing sin­gle whip. I found this sym­bol in many parks actu­al­ly, and I think it means that it’s a pub­lic park.

There are also speak­ers that beep at the traf­fic lights to let blind peo­ple know when to cross, and sub­way esca­la­tors that click con­stant­ly, so they know where to get on.

Western commercials

Sometimes the com­mer­cials are dubbed over, so there are Caucasian actors in them speak­ing Chinese. Sometimes, they’re redone com­plete­ly, such as the Oreo cook­ie com­mer­cial with the two young girls, where the younger one tries to dunk her cook­ie in her milk, except she has a sip cup. So she ends up pour­ing the milk onto the cook­ie and laugh­ing. In Hong Kong this is re-done, pret­ty much shot-for-shot, except with two Chinese boys.

Also, instead of the slo­gan “Red Bull gives you wings”, the car­toons use incon­sis­tent vari­a­tions, such as, “No red bull, how can I fly?” (in Chinese).

Soft water

Plumbing pro­vides soft water, or soft­er than what I get at home in the city. That means your skin does­n’t dry out, even with even hot show­ers.

Electrical outlets

Electrical plugs

I still don’t under­stand how the elec­tri­cal out­lets work. There seems to be one type of plug but many dif­fer­ent types of adapters, not includ­ing the ones for North American plugs. Two prongs, three prongs, square prongs, round prongs, flat prongs, or com­bi­na­tions there­of. This is a pic­ture of the adapters I need­ed to get my MacBook Pro and exter­nal hard dri­ve going.

No central air or hot water

A lot of Hong Kong liv­ing is in apart­ments, so there’s no cen­tral air. That means an air con­di­tion­ing unit in every room, some­times two if the room is big. The units aren’t always con­nect­ed to win­dows, (as you can see in this pic­ture at the top right), which makes me won­der where the hot air goes. Is there a vent behind the A/C unit? Also, since these units are high up, they have fan­cy remotes with LCD screens that con­trol both on/off and the tem­per­a­ture.

There’s also no cen­tral hot water tank. Each show­er and sink has it’s own small gas-pow­ered tank, which instant­ly ignites the gas to heat the water com­ing in as soon as the hot water is turned on from the faucet. It’s a lit­tle scary to be tak­ing a show­er in the tub, and see­ing a plume of blue flames across from you at all times.

No daylight savings

Hong Kong does­n’t have day­light sav­ings, because the dif­fer­ence in light between the sum­mer and the win­ter isn’t great enough. This was espe­cial­ly con­fus­ing, when I went from Hong Kong being 13 hours ahead before I got there, to 12 hours ahead when I land­ed, because my flight was on the day that we’re sup­posed to adjust our clocks in North America.

Lone eaters

Lone eater

I would see peo­ple eat­ing by them­selves all the time in Hong Kong, where­as in North America it seems to be a lit­tle more taboo, like say­ing you don’t have any friends or some­thing. This guy was watch­ing a TV in the cor­ner to hear the race results at the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club, since bet­ting on them is so pop­u­lar. Actually, pret­ty much every­one in here was fol­low­ing the race, prob­a­bly for the same rea­sons.

Eight-digit telephone numbers

With an extra num­ber, the pac­ing becomes dif­fer­ent when telling some­one your num­ber. Most peo­ple seem to break it up in 4 and 4. My dad tried to tell me his num­ber, and broke it up into 3, 3, and 2. I could­n’t under­stand him. It’s like he was speak­ing a dif­fer­ent lan­guage.

Boiling drinking water

Everyone has lit­tle water can­teens in the kitchen, to keep water hot, and a jug for room tem­per­a­ture water. That’s because the water that comes out of the tap can’t be trust­ed, so any water used for drink­ing is boiled before­hand. I’ve been told that if you drink hot water out of the faucet with­out boil­ing, there will be the taste of oth­er foods in there. This makes the water used to rinse your mouth some­what scary.

Pizza Hut and McCafé

Inside Pizza Hut

Inside Pizza Hut

Pizza Hut’s in Hong Kong are way classier than what we have here. They also serve a wider vari­ety of foods, like the hon­ey lemon tea, and this snack plat­ter, with choco­late driz­zled peach­es and straw­ber­ries.


There’s also a McDonald’s ver­sion of a cof­fee house, named McCafé, which com­petes with high-end cof­fee shops. They’re usu­al­ly locat­ed inside McDonalds, and serve more expen­sive fare.

Sharing tables

It’s not uncom­mon to share tables with oth­er peo­ple at a restau­rant. If there isn’t enough space, it means the restau­rant is very good. This was prob­a­bly one of the hard­est things to get used to. No pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions, and since Chinese food can be rather messy, you real­ly have to be care­ful.

Toothpicks at every table

Since it’s not con­sid­ered impo­lite in Chinese cul­ture to use a tooth­pick while sit­ting at the table after a meal (pro­vid­ed your hand is cov­er­ing your mouth), there are tooth­pick dis­pensers on the tables in restau­rants and in hous­es.

Also, instead of black pep­per, which is not com­mon for Chinese cook­ing, there are white pep­per shak­ers.

Gas prices

I was in my uncle’s Jaguar, and we went to a gas sta­tion to fill up one time. I don’t know if the tank was emp­ty, but the gas cost him $100 CAD. I asked him how much he drove to have to fill up, and he told me 300km, which put the price of gas at rough­ly 2–3 times what it is in Canada. It’s pret­ty much all stop and go in Hong Kong. It seemed like stretch­es of high­way aren’t longer than 10km, and the speed lim­it is 80km/h.



Crosswalks are divid­ed in two parts of the street, with a walk sig­nal that often only gets you half way to the mid­dle of the street, cause it’s mount­ed to the medi­an. There’s usu­al­ly a “don’t walk” sig­nal for the oth­er half. This is because traf­fic is com­mon­ly allowed to flow in one direc­tion but not the oth­er, even though it’s com­ing from the oppo­site side, and not per­pen­dic­u­lar.

There’s also a gen­er­ous medi­an in the mid­dle; since Hong Kong is so pop­u­lous, it lets a lot more peo­ple stand in the mid­dle and wait. You’ll notice in the pic­ture that you can’t run straight across the street, because the rail­ings of the medi­an go for a bit of a jog to one side first.


Taxis are every­where in Hong Kong. The fares seem to be about the same, which is strange, con­sid­er­ing how much more expen­sive gas is over there. The dri­vers can hit a switch to open the back pas­sen­ger doors auto­mat­i­cal­ly. Very use­ful when your hands are full.


Park worker

There seems to be a lot of fund­ing that goes into parks and recre­ation­al areas. That means there are always tons of work­ers who look after the parks, whether it’s trim­ming shrub­bery, sweep­ing floors, pick­ing up lit­ter, clean­ing the bath­rooms, water­ing plants, and the like.

Tree sign

The trees and flow­ers are also often labeled with lit­tle yel­low plaques that have the Chinese and Latin names.

No stars in the sky

I did­n’t notice any stars while I was in Hong Kong. Which I was not sur­prised about, as it’s so urban­ized. Light pol­lu­tion is just one of the many pol­lu­tions that seem to affect such a pop­u­lous city.

Subway system

The sub­way has stores that line the halls. Not just con­ve­nience stores, but trav­el agen­cies, bak­eries, tea shops, and Chinese med­i­cine shops. You can see them near the begin­ning of my Hong Kong: Markets video.

The voice that announces the stops is pre-record­ed in Cantonese, Mandarin, and English (with a British accent). This is dif­fer­ent from the Toronto sub­way sys­tem, where the train dri­ver announces each stop in English only, with a gar­bled voice. The maps on sub­way cars also have blink­ing LEDs that let you know where you are. It’s a super easy sys­tem to use.

Sometimes, the dis­tance to get from one sub­way car to anoth­er is pret­ty big, even though it’s at the same sta­tion, so there are not only esca­la­tors, but mov­ing walk­ways to get between them faster.

1st floor vs ground floor

Elevator panel

In Chinese, the ground floor is dif­fer­ent from the 1st floor, and the 1st floor is real­ly the sec­ond floor. This is real­ly con­fus­ing, because when a sign is trans­lat­ed to English, the first floor is the ground floor. So even though you have one sign with both Chinese and English on it explain­ing what’s on each floor, the Chinese will say “1st floor” and direct­ly across the trans­la­tion will be “2nd floor”.


  1. The elec­tri­cal out­lets is the one thing I’m very par­tic­u­lar because I need my gad­gets to work and Malaysian and Australian elec­tri­cal out­lets are com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent. I have to rely on my uni­ver­sal adapters to plug my stuff in. Strangely enough, Malaysiam 3 plug con­nec­tors (which look like one of the con­nec­tors in your pic­ture) can have a vari­ety of inter­na­tion­al plugs con­nect­ed to it. Also, Malaysian plugs and Hong Kong plugs are the same (I think it’s the British colo­nial thing).

    Most of the things here, strange­ly enough reminds me of Malaysia. I so get the ele­va­tor bit because I was always con­fused when first floor in Australia is referred to as the 2nd.

    • I have no idea how the charg­ing bars work for my elec­tron­ic devices. I believe they auto­mat­i­cal­ly change volt­ages, depend­ing on the cur­rent they receive, because the adapters weren’t for chang­ing volt­age but only prongs.

      If you sus­pect that plugs are the same across old British colonies, I won­der what the plugs in China are like. I would think they are the same, since it’s so close to Hong Kong.

      • You won’t believe this. The sock­et out­lets in China vary from province to province, and from city to city. In some hotels, they pro­vide dif­fer­ent types in the same hotel. Talk about free­dom of choice in author­i­tar­i­an China :). It’s a para­dox of Franco unruli­ness in col­lec­tivist China.

      • That’s unbe­liev­able. You’d think that such a gigan­tic coun­try, with a writ­ing sys­tem that has been changed to “sim­pli­fied”, would also be able to stan­dard­ize an elec­tri­cal sys­tem.

        Perhaps all these dif­fer­ent types are to help keep the man­u­fac­tur­ing indus­try going!

  2. thay wouldent put cool stuff like that in our parks man cuz there all too into the mighty dol­lar .
    why let ppl get heal­ty on there own when u can charge em 39.95 a month 4 the feel­ing of health

    • I real­ly don’t know any fund­ing details for parks in Canada, but it’s def­i­nite­ly not as great as what they have in Hong Kong. You have to remem­ber that labour is much cheap­er there too. There were also many senior cit­i­zens work­ing at jobs just for some­thing to do, and they don’t mind low wages.

  3. I had no idea the gas was that bad!!! I’m going to have to repay my friends more when I go back.

    I think the small water-heater solu­tion is bril­liant and I wish it were com­mon here; you could reg­u­late how hot and how much you want to spend instead of being of the mer­cy of your build­ing man­ag­er.

    What I most found dif­fer­ent when I went there was the total glut of styles of inter­est­ing shoes and clothes that we sim­ply did­n’t have in the United States — at all!. It brought to my atten­tion the fact that the major depart­ment stores in the U.S. have a qui­et grip on what is pro­vid­ed to us in the malls. And MAN are their tastes bor­ing com­pared to Asia, where all col­ors and shapes and styles are fair game for fash­ion.

    • I hear small water-heaters are com­mon in Europe too. The tech­ni­cian who cleans my fur­nace rec­om­mend­ed it as a replace­ment for my big water tank when it broke, but when I called the com­pa­ny, they said it was a spe­cial order. You need to design a house a lit­tle dif­fer­ent­ly too with the small ones.

      About the vary­ing styles, I live in a small city, and my hair styl­ist tells me about train­ing cours­es he goes to in LA, and the crazy hair­styles peo­ple are will­ing to wear. I guess style is all rel­a­tive.

      • It’s more the clothes than hair­styles. (The hair­styles youre styl­ist is talk­ing about end up on a very small num­ber of peo­ple, com­par­a­tive­ly. The rest are all dyed blonde straight shags. Pretty ho hum actu­al­ly.)

      • Along with the bland hair, 1/3 of the LA pop­u­la­tion also dri­ve black cars (for­bid vans, and pick-ups), wear over­sized shades, and car­ry around Louis Vutton pro­ducs. And the men can be just as bad.

  4. You’re right about the split-type A/C, the com­pres­sor is on the oth­er side of the exter­nal wall, so that you won’t have to bear with the noise. Same as the cen­tral A/C in Canada, where the com­pres­sor is installed in the front yard or back yard.

    The sin­gle-whip is actu­al­ly the logo of the Department of leisure & Recreation.

    The rail­ing of the safe­ty island in the mid­dle is exact­ly for the pur­pose of pre­vent­ing peo­ple from run­ning straight across the street.

    I’m told that the Toronto gov­ern­ment is now offer­ing rebates for con­sumers to switch from stor­age type water heaters to instan­ta­neous gas water heaters, to save ener­gy (and mon­ey of course). Look it up.

    A lot of pub­lic sys­tems in HK may seem quite “advanced” and con­ve­nient. That’s only because there’s an extreme­ly dense pop­u­la­tion (high usage), so that the sys­tem oper­a­tors can afford the run­ning cost.

    And yes, a lot of the for­mats used in HK are British lega­cies.

    • Ah, the com­pres­sor being on the oth­er side of the wall is why the A/C is so qui­et! It was no loud­er than a fan. Actually, in Canada it’s even loud­er; I can hear my A/C through the out­side walls.

      I nev­er real­ized that the jog of the rail­ing is for peo­ple’s own safe­ty. It’s anoth­er one of those small things where the Hong Kong does things auto­mat­i­cal­ly for the ben­e­fit of the peo­ple.

      It’s amaz­ing that the pub­lic trans­porta­tion sys­tem has such a good mar­gin. I’m guess­ing it’s because the area is small and stops are close togeth­er, mak­ing it extreme­ly con­ve­nient. In Toronto and Ottawa, they’re always look­ing for pub­lic fund­ing for an extra finan­cial hand. I also noticed that there was almost no graf­fi­ti on the bus­es in Hong Kong, where­as in Ottawa it’s rare to see a bus with­out any mark­ings, and the bus com­pa­ny announced that they won’t be clean­ing them as often to save on costs. Maybe this is also because there are always peo­ple on the bus­es, so less chance of some­one being alone for graf­fi­ti.

  5. When I was in HK a few years ago, the tour guide told us that it was cheap to own a car in HK, but very expen­sive to main­tain it. Parking is expen­sive, gas is expen­sive, every­thing is expen­sive.

    And, don’t you think it is more log­i­cal to name the ground floor “GROUND”? LOL.

    • That’s exact­ly what my uncle told me too. And the fact that cars depre­ci­ate in val­ue does­n’t help either.

      And I always imag­ine that if an English-speak­ing per­son asks a Chinese per­son what floor some­thing is on that there would be a great deal of con­fu­sion!

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