My colleague who witnessed the whole thing later told me it was no big deal. I protested that if it wasn’t, there was no need to point and shout like I was some murderer standing to be identified in a line-up (well I didn’t say that last part). Jin tells me what at stores she never gets waited on when she’s shopping with her white friends. Incidentally Jin makes more money than the other girls so guess what, all this racism/sexism is really hurting the racists/sexists. As Jin said, a woman is a woman’s worst enemy. She couldn’t be more right and lamentably, it shouldn’t have to be that way.
Hong Kong is no doubt a vibrant and wondrous city and most people are loathe to accept any criticism about this fine city so in many ways the pride among hongkongers (is that a word) is comparable to that of the new yorkers. But I’ve lived in NY and I am living here now and I am trying to be as objective as I possibly can and as fair as I can possible be in making or not making comparisons and judgements. But a few issues stand out glaringly, two rather ugly and destructive ones in particular – I am talking about racism and sexism.
I consider myself a new-age-y feminist, not the bra burning kind, in the sense that I don’t dismiss the female form and I never try to dress or act in a more masculine way to be treated in a way equal to a man. I can’t say if this is working for me yet, ask me again in twenty years and if I am a business head at some superfantastic investment bank (and I am still rocking a sleek dress), then you have your answer. I also believe strongly in chivalry and I guess this is probably “wrong” or “hypocritical” or whatever the fuck but I like it. I like the doors to be held open, I like to be waited on, I fucking like it, okay? Chivalry is a sign of civilised behaviour, just like saying “excuse me” or not littering or being kind to service staff. (Incidentally like chivalry, the others are also conspicuously absent in Hong Kong).
Hong Kong serves up a heady cocktail of racism and sexism which means that being brown and a woman is a foolproof recipe for being treated like shit. Doesn’t matter what you wear, how much you earn or how much you’re willing to spend (no, I am not saying that your credit limit should be a basis for the way you’re treated but let’s face it, at least money is colorblind). In this jungle of uncivilised ignorance, white trumps brown and man trumps woman.
I don’t claim to be the most well-traveled person on earth but I have certainly traveled a bit and I have certainly eaten at some fantastic restaurants, restaurants with impeccable service. And I can assure you that in no restaurant in no other city that I have eaten in have I seen the man/men I am eating with be served before myself or the women I am with. Except in Hong Kong. So imagine my utter disgust when I go to a restaurant for lunch with three of my male colleagues (who incidentally are white) and they get served drinks before I do, soup before I do, mains before I do and even fucking espresso before I do. Coincidence? Racist sexism is no fucking fluke.
This morning I got all suited up for a day of client meetings (and it’s a Friday), so I daresay I am looking much nicer and businesslike than I usually would on a friday. I had braved the shitty weather and a violently cold night (sans heater) and I am somewhat grateful that my sinus is at a controlled level and that I am not going to miss a meeting because of it. I walk to work fully armed in woolcoat and all because I am not risking pneumonia in this wet shitty cold. I go to the pantry to make myself a coffee (in an attempt to denounce those toffee nut lattes, in an attempt to lose weight and be bikini ready for Brazil). And this benign situation is where my second story of collective racism and sexism begins. Operation Attack the Brown Girl.
We have a very nice and friendly (my ass) lady who is sort of the office woman-friday/do-it-all who is seemingly nice to everyone and does odd jobs and cleans and what not. Anywho, the lady offers to wash my coffee mug (I find this really unnecessary but oh well). I stick the milk in the microwave, a pod in the nespresso machine and wait. In the meantime this smug good looking dude comes to get his espresso refilled. Side note: the office girls gush at this bloke because he’s quite the looker (not to me) and incidentally he is married so that adds to his douchey smugness. Whatever. So this nutjob cuts ahead while I am waiting (because you know, people just wait by the coffee machine and try to make conversation with it, not because they’re trying to make their morning cuppa). He sticks another pod in (so there are two pods in the machine). He hits the button and things go predictably pearshaped. So guess what they all do? Blame the girl. Don’t blame the impatient ass who stuck the second pod in while I was waiting for my coffee. Before I know it this stupid cow is trying to yank the extra pod, refusing my offers to help her out and screaming to all and sundry in Cantonese whilst pointing at me that it was my fucking fault. I assume thats what she was saying since I don’t fucking speak Cantonese but I sure as hell don’t like people yelling near me while pointing at me. You do speak English so fucking speak English and say what you have to, to my face. Meanwhile the douchebag stands there taking no responsibility. Fan-fucking-tastic. So I stand there like I have a thumb up my butt while this woman tries to fix the machine. Ten minutes later, she gets the second pod out. I thought to myself, fuck this shit, and said “Look I am really sorry”. What else could I say? Sergeant dipshit then mumbles under his breath, inaudible to anyone else, “actually it was my fault”. No shit sherlock. Thanks for being gracious, asshole.