Anti-gwailo gwailos erupt

A major outbreak of righteous indignant mouth-frothing in Hong Kong Twitter-land. The cause was this piece by a Financial Times staffer leaving the city after just a couple of years, describing her life of junk parties, RAT tests, champagne at sunset, quarantine – every dim-bimbo expat cliche bar the rickshaws and coolies. 

What you should do is turn the page (it’s a lifestyle piece). But it was a slow weekend, and numerous familiar-but-anonymous posters erupted in fury. Many pointed out obvious shortcomings in the article. ‘…she falsely generalises her own terribly disinterested disposition as the norm…’ How could she be an expert when she apparently had few local connections? Or claims the only thing that’s cheap here is the taxis

Tone deaf is right, but not for the reasons she imagines. She seems completely ignorant of the fact that a large population of non-Cantonese here in Hong Kong (many professionals) live nothing like she describes and were out there protesting with everyone else.

At this point a more angry crowd weighs in. I won’t bother linking, but the basic gist of it is a form of virtue-signaling: ‘this person is just an expat, while I’m a genuine [non-native-born] Hongkonger of many years/decades who can use chopsticks and has local friends and cares and understands about the place’. Or the short version: ‘I’m white, but not a Disco Bay one’.

This hypersensitive superiority and resentment towards other outsiders/Westerners who moved to Hong Kong more recently and/or don’t integrate sufficiently is not new. Remember aging colonial matrons’ disgust at working-class Brits arriving to work on the airport in the 90s? Probably goes back centuries. Indeed, it has a name: Marco Polo Syndrome. I discovered this place and know its exotic ways, while you are an interloper who embarrasses me.

The cool thing to do is ignore people. Always worked for me live and let live. Not everyone is curious or adaptive. (Though most FT correspondents, in my experience, are.)

Update: quick discussion of the phenomenon.

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17 Responses to Anti-gwailo gwailos erupt

  1. Joe Blow says:

    I am not an aging colonial matron -far from it- but I do remember the working-class Brits working on the airport in the 90s. (isn’t “working class” a terribly British thing to say? They make it sound like a disease). How could I forget the shirtless gentlemen sitting in front of 7-11 in Wanchai on sunny Sunday afternoons, drinking from large bottles of cold San Miguel? Brits will be Brits. I won’t even mention -okay, if you insist- the tides of general human flotsam that drifted ashore in the run up to 1997. Good times.

  2. Casira says:

    I find some old-time club-connected expats even more disconnected from reality than the new arrivals on the high-end of the spectrum. At least you can give the latter the benefice of ignorance or youth. The former usually have token roles on charity boards and see that as an alibi for their patent racism and classism.

  3. Chinese Netizen says:

    Ah the old “Lao Wai Death Stare” syndrome (circa early/mid 1990s) courtesy of now defunct “Talk Talk China” blog for jaded, longtime China resident expats.

    Young Caucasoid backpacker who immersed himself in Mandarin for four years at Kalamazoo College, heads off to some remote shit hole on the mainland – Lonely Planet in hand – via 48hr hard sleeper and thinking he’s the only Whitey that peasants there ever gazed upon. Does the requisite photographing of snot nosed poor kids and shabbily dressed old men in tattered, rubber soled PLA sneakers and Mao jackets.

    Has his bubble shattered when sitting in a dumpling shop and trying to communicate with lao ban who speaks shit Putonghua, he notices an older, wiser appearing Whitey in the corner on his 5th (insert local piss water brand) beer, fag dangling from mouth and just grinning, taking it all in.

  4. KwaanLeySie says:

    I found it amusing in the article where the author said she has not experienced any of the political changes and loss of autonomy in HK in her expat life at all, while she seems oblivious to the fact she had to live with HK’s insane China-imposed Zero Covid quarantine regime for the whole period she was in HK.

  5. YTSL says:

    Tsk, Hemlock, you missed this gem from the FT piece: “Some expats in the financial district were caught up in tear-gas attacks by police or protesters during the 2019 uprising, but many are glad the Chinese national security law ended the riots and they could get back to work.”

    Tell me again, when did Hong Kong protestors attack people with tear gas? Also, the use of the term “riots” rather than “protests” is quite telling, no?

    And, to be honest, if she weren’t an FT journalist, I don’t think there’d be so much “righteous indignant mouth-frothing in Hong Kong Twitter-land” — because, well, one does expect journalists, especially from reputable media, to be more knowledgeable (and the editors to be better at fact checking).

  6. Red Dragon says:

    Oh these whiteys in Hong Kong. I’ve come across them all in my time.

    The old club (HK, RHKYC, Football, HKJC etc.) colonials, who continue to drift around in some rose-tinted version of the 1970’s; the DB expat bubble brigade, whose “lifestyle” is the same no matter where in the world they live (and they don’t really know or care); the transients, here today and gone tomorrow, who take nothing with them and leave nothing behind them; the long-term old soaks (my favourites), who, fag and San Mig in hand, traditionally inhabit the shebeens of the outlying islands; the earnest, possibly local-born folks for whom “Hong Kong is home” and who can’t quite imagine living anywhere else; the list goes on.

    Although these categories sometimes overlap, and there is a certain amount of transition from one to another, their respective memberships seem to have only one thing in common, namely no more than the most passing social interaction with the indigenous people amongst whom they live. That, of course, may not be entirely their fault and may have just as much to do with the fact that the locals (apart from charging them eye-watering rents) wouldn’t touch any of them with a bargepole.

    Whatever the case, I did find the FT woman’s article remarkably tin-eared though I dare say that many of the people mentioned above, particularly those who fall into certain of the categories, wouldn’t have batted an eyelid.

    In the end, however, I simply don’t care. And that is rather liberating.

  7. C.Law says:


    ” because, well, one does expect journalists, especially from reputable media, to be more knowledgeable (and the editors to be better at fact checking). ”

    Ha ha, what is the colour of the sky in the world you live in?

  8. dopey says:

    The truth hurts.

  9. YTSL says:

    @C.Law — normally sky blue but it can be gray sometimes and pretty dark too. What about in your world?

  10. A Poor Man says:

    Joe Blow – It seems that Jebsen is bringing back Lowenbrau beer. They paid for a draught system at Southside in Mui Wo.

    Chinese Netizen – Great story, but I thought it was going to end with backpacker’s bubble being shattered when after struggling to order lunch using Google translate and hand signals, the lao ban asks him what the hell he wanted in the perfect English he learned while hitchhiking across the western US as a 20-something.

  11. Load Toad says:

    I just want to make public that SCMP has now blocked all my emails and stopped me from being a sarcastic 2@ in their comments section.

  12. Mary Melville says:

    Perhaps she left with a retainer to ‘tell the good story’?

  13. Goatboy says:

    I assume this is by Tabby (I can’t access the article). She was a pretty crap reporter, it must be said. And yet supremely confident.

  14. dimuendo says:

    Having met at least 3 FT correspondents in HK (and 2 elsewhere) not impressed by any of them.

    Not as clever or well informed as they thought themselves and sometimes tending to the arrogant as per Victor Mallet who thought he was untouchable notwithstanding being warned off presiding at the meeting at the FCC while not being a Permanent Resident.

    Plus, shock horror, no time or respect for a publication which weekly produces a handout called How to Spend It.

    I am sure Kwasi Kwarteng reads it. Total arrogant arsehole.

  15. Dr Zhivago says:

    “Tabby Kinder” (the FT hack that prompted the hoo hah) sounds like a porn name.

    Tabby’s next “beat” is San Francisco where she’ll be getting used to human faeces on the street and druggies mainlining outside the 7-11. Lucky girl

  16. F. Tempus fugit says:

    I enjoyed the irony of Tabby using Kipling’s 1889 quote on Hong Kong vice, but very self-consciously leaving out the more apposite next sentence (a refrain that permeates the chapter) —
    “Of course things are out and away better at ‘Frisco,” said my guide, “but we consider this very fair for the Island.”

    Plus ça change…

  17. David Cottle says:

    Surely the colonial matrons at least had a point.
    Having quite reasonably got as distant as they could from the British working class, it must have been trying for them to find examples of same bearing down on them in far Cathay.

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