The Chinese Found Me Amusing

My Life in the Last Days of Colonial Hong Kong

Sometime in the late 1970s, the British stopped calling Hong Kong a Crown Colony and started calling it a British Overseas Territory.

Colonialism was out of fashion, and the change was supposed to mark a departure from the days when British administrators lived in cool splendor at the top of Victoria Peak, and any Chinese who were not their servants lived in the hot, crowded city below.

When I got there in 1987, there were still plenty of Westerners in Hong Kong, so many that their neighborhood had spread from the Peak halfway down the hill, into a neighborhood called Mid-levels.

Not all of the foreigners were British, although there were plenty of people that fit the joking designation "FILTH" - "failed in London, Try Hongkong."


At the moon festival, in Wanchai.


While the worst of the colonial excesses were gone - there were no longer designated 'White' and 'Chinese' seats on the Star Ferry, for example - what was left of colonial privilege was still very pleasant for those on the receiving end of it.

Servants were still affordable, particularly since white foreigners made three times the salaries locals did for doing precisely the same job. The local cuisine was excellent and cheap.

And foreign men found themselves extremely popular with the local ladies, since marriage with a 'white devil' would provide Western passports for her entire family.

Although I wasn't FILTH, my reasons for being in Hong Kong were no more noble. At age 24, I wasn't really ready to settle down in the States yet. Having spent two years in Europe, Asia sounded intriguing.

At the time, the Japanese were using their new manufacturing wealth to buy American icons like Rockefeller Center, and US newspapers were full of 'yellow peril' stories.

I truly hate scare stories about "those people" who are "not like us." So I went to Asia to see for myself. Hong Kong, where the official language was still English, was a much more practical destination than Japan.

Next: I try to blend in.

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