Whether you are a Hong Konger working from home or a home maker, whether you’re a local 852er or an expat 852er, you can never know too much about Hong Kong. It may have once been (or still is) promoted as an international financial centre, the Pearl of the Orient, Asia’s World or derided as a city falling into the doldrums and messy politics. Whatever your views of the SAR, one thing’s for sure—it’s a city constantly in flux and struggling to find a foothold in its identity from its colonial days to 20-odd years after the Chinese handover. For a journey through time, during this Covid era we invite you to make the most of your free time and read these are 5 books to learn more about Hong Kong:
1. Never Enough by Joe McGinniss
Wealthy, mildly pretty, being a non-working expat wife to a Merrill Lynch banker in Hong Kong with loving children, what more could a woman ask for? Well, a gentle and loving husband for starters. The book recounts the true story of how Nancy Kissel murdered her husband with a drug-laced milkshake and a golf rod. At trial, her defence was that she murdered him as a result of a lengthy verbally abusive marriage. It makes one wonder if there are always two sides to every story.
2. No City for Slow Men by Jason Ng
Tongue-in-cheek and at-times insightful observation of life in Hong Kong, the book is a collection of essays written by a third culture author-professor-lawyer born in Canada and working in Hong Kong. Some highlights are his essays on Hong Kong men’s fascination with luxury watches, how there is an intolerance for slowness and the elderly and the Mainland Chinese perspective of life here. It’s difficult to associate the author’s at-times sympathetic, at times ironic essays on Hong Kong’s mixture of various cultures with the notoriety that the author gained from his mocking use of idiom.
3. The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee
Romance is trumped by the realities of life in colonial Hong Kong. An Englishman falls in love with a mesmerizing Eurasian lady who straddles their romance with the mercenary needs of catering to the Japanese during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong. The Englishman is just as mercenary in his own way by having an affair with a married Englishwoman who is unsatisfied with her marriage. Beautiful descriptions of the glittery lifestyle and contrast with the harsh and tortuous life in Hong Kong during the Japanese occupation.
4. Mr. China by Tim Clissold
True tales of the exploits of a Wall Street banker and an Englishman who got funded with around US$400 million to invest in 90s China just when it started its open-door policy. They went into joint ventures with state enterprises and private companies in China, sometimes with help from Hong Kong bankers and finances. Some tales are lessons on getting a Chinese lawyer onboard early on rather than relying on Western lawyers, others are lessons on catering to the factory workers who will lose their livelihoods from massive redundancies to revamp loss-making companies. An interesting book on how far China has come in the regulatory and social welfare landscape then and now.
5. Gweilo by Martin Booth
From the eyes of a street-smart English son of a lowly colonial civil servant in Hong Kong, this is an autobiography of the author who immersed himself in local culture to the likes where you seldom see in Hong Kong. He loved eating at dai pai dong and learning the colloquial slangs of the Cantonese. It came into “good” use for a street fight between his father and a tram driver when his father cut in front of a tram when driving and their car got damaged. This resulted in compensation from the tram company but not long after it became illegal to cut in front of tram lines by a change in the law.