View Full Version : Hong Kong born woman in Vancouver - manners?

08-23-2011, 11:24 PM
I have a minor character in my current work who I'd like to have been born and raised in Hong Kong. She's living in Vancouver now, married to a Canadian-born man of Chinese descent (he speaks Cantonese, learned from his parents and community).

What I'd like is for there to be some subtle differences in her behaviour based on her upbringing. She's wealthy and educated, but my impression of women raised in the Chinese culture (even as adapted in Hong Kong) is that they tend to be more reserved, more formal with strangers, etc. I guess I'm looking for confirmation of this observation, so that I don't end up perpetuating an inaccurate stereotype.

In slightly more detail - My MC is a prominent garden designer. Not the financial equal of the Chinese couple, by any means, but socially prominent b/c he designs gardens for all the rich folk. He's established a relationship with the couple (designed their previous garden), and is now in a room where two new men are being introduced. My MC calls the Chinese husband by his first name, but refers to the wife as Mrs. Yueng. Is this weird? If it isn't strange, how would Mr. Yeung introduce himself and his wife, assuming he wanted the same level of formality? "I'm Vincent, and this is my wife Mrs. Yeung?" ??

Thanks for any advice!

Drachen Jager
08-24-2011, 12:24 AM
Do you live in Vancouver? 'Cause living here I can certainly give an outsider's impression of how HK immigrants behave, but I'm way too white to know the inner workings. Chinese in Vancouver, the recent immigrants that is, tend to be very cliquey, they rarely speak English when they can find someone to converse with in Chinese and they would never speak English to another native Chinese speaker. I don't know exactly how the Mandarin/Cantonese divide works socially here, but from what I observe, the two avoid mingling, though not as strictly as they avoid mingling with non-Chinese.

So, bearing that in mind, I believe 'Mrs. Yeung' would not even be a proper way of translating how she'd be addressed in Chinese (this is relying on one course on Mandarin I took many years ago, so it's highly possible I'm wrong).

As to being reserved around strangers, I'm not sure if that applies to all strangers or just non-Chinese strangers.

Typical/cliched wealthy HK woman immigrant.

Drives a Mercedes, possibly a BMW, normally a sports-car. Mercedes SLK is the most common.
Rarely goes out during the day, avoids sunlight (a tan is a sign of a poor upbringing and something to be avoided at all costs)
Rail thin, supermodel figure, though not so tall.
Perfect nails, hair, etc.
Jewelry, clothes, accessories ensemble is either put together by a designer or looks like it was.
Is never seen performing anything that could be considered work. Again, this is a sign she's poor.
Image is everything, no matter what may be wrong in her life she will not show it to any but closest friends/relatives.

08-24-2011, 12:44 AM
I used to live in Vancouver, so I'm basing it on that, but like you, I saw it from the outside. My Chinese friends were mostly Canadian-born, so I feel pretty confident writing MR. Yeung, but the HK aspect is, as you said, less accessible.

08-24-2011, 02:34 AM
My mom was Canadian-born Chinese, and many of my friends' parents were born in Hong Kong/China/Taiwan, and came to Canada when they were in their twenties/early thirties. I grew up, and now live in, Toronto.

In general, I never noticed Hong Kong-raised women to be more formal or reserved. (I have met quite a number of overbearing Asian women, actually. I'd include my grandma in that category.) There were, however, differences in attitudes, values and parenting styles.

But there is the issue that large Chinese communities (as in Toronto, Vancouver) can be quite isolated from the rest of the city, as Drachen Jager mentioned, so perhaps she would be slightly uncomfortable in your described social situation? However, being married to a Canadian-born man, I imagine she would not be quite as isolated from the rest of society as some members of the Chinese community.

How old are these characters?

08-24-2011, 02:53 AM
Mid-thirties, maybe?

Would you say that you were seen as 'one of them' when you were around your Chinese relatives/friends? I'm wondering if my perception was different because I'm white, and was an outsider. Interesting...

08-24-2011, 03:17 AM
I lived in Hong Kong for about 2 years and some of the habits I brought back to the States with me that took forever to shake:

- pressing the "Door Close" button on elevators repeatedly the second I get on the elevator

- toothpicks after a meal. Everyone uses them - rich or poor, it doesn't matter.

- referring to picnics as BBQs

- one of the oldest Hong Kong traditions is one that didn't ensnare me but: watching TVB during dinner. Almost every HK family meal I witnessed occurred while everyone sat at the table and watched TV

- using toilet paper as napkins

- always carrying a little travel pack of Kleenex in my bag

- smoking...I lived in HK in the 90's and it was hard to find someone who DIDN'T smoke

- these days everyone in HK with any money is a red wine snob. It's gotten a little out of hand!

- karaoke!

- playing the finger game at bars, which sounds dirtier than it is. It's a guessing game where the loser has to drink. Sort of the Hong Kong equivalent of Quarters or Beer Pong.

08-24-2011, 03:38 AM
Excellent info, Grady, thanks.

Did you notice anything about the women being more reserved than Western women? (I'm wondering if I was just generally shy around them, and that made them seem reserved...)

08-24-2011, 03:27 PM
I hate to speak for all Hong Kong women, but I didn't think they were more reserved at all. I worked in a mostly female office and a lot of my friends worked for arts organizations, so I found them to be pretty assertive. Also, I was lower down the totem pole than pretty much EVERYONE, so while people deferred to their bosses I wasn't worth catering to.

The biggest deference I noticed was male/female Hong Kong Chinese going all passive and sort of shutting down their opinions in the face of Westerners, especially Westerners in positions of authority. It wasn't so much deferring to them, but I read it more of a, "It's not worth having this argument with this white person, and I'll probably lose and they'll just do what they want anyways, so fine." I'm reading a lot into it!

But Hong Kong is one of the most self-loathing places I've ever run across. I chalk it up to a colonial hangover. Hong Kong people are always going off about how bad Hong Kong is compared to other places, and the second I say I like something in Hong Kong I get a "Really? But in Place X it's so much better. You don't know Hong Kong (or Place X) well enough."

08-24-2011, 03:59 PM
I wonder if that's what I've noticed, the 'no point trying to explain it to her,' vibe.

It's interesting, isn't it? I'm trying to write from what I know, which seems safe enough, but the very fact of me being there has changed the behaviour I'm trying to observe. Interesting and frustrating.

But, okay... I can still have my female character being reserved, since it fits the scene, but instead of saying it's because she's more traditional, maybe I'll say it's just her personality. I don't want her to be disillusioned with my MC, because it's important that they have a rapport.

08-24-2011, 05:59 PM
Mid-thirties, maybe?

Would you say that you were seen as 'one of them' when you were around your Chinese relatives/friends? I'm wondering if my perception was different because I'm white, and was an outsider. Interesting...

well, I am 'one of them' around my relatives, but other than my grandparents (who have been in Canada more than 50 years), everyone's Canadian-born. But I would never think of myself as part of the Chinese community. My mom couldn't really associate with the Chinese community either, especially since she didn't speak either Cantonese or Mandarin.

My experience is mainly with my mom's friends and parents of my friends. Most of these people would have been in Canada for at least 3 or 4 years, so this may be different from your character.

I was wondering about the age in part because you said he learned Cantonese from his parents, and unless he was under 30, his parents would have come to Canada before the mass exodus from Hong Kong. Toisanese/Taishanese was the language of 'old' Chinatown in Canada (this is what my family speaks) and is similar to Cantonese, but my mom couldn't understand Cantonese. Early immigrants to Canada, including those who worked on the railway, were Toisanese. Of course, it is still reasonable that his parents would have been Cantonese-speaking (my uncle's family is, and he was born in Canada), it was just less common at that time in Canada.