This is my twentieth anniversary of arriving in Hong Kong. So instead of talking about the English language, I will review what changes I have seen in Hong Kong for the past twenty years.
English standards have not changed very much. Languages change over generations, not a few years. Many news pundits claim that some exam results show a decline in English standards. Look closer at the exam. There used to be many classes officially in English, but were actually taught in Cantonese. More young people in stores have minimally functional English. Even if they make grammar mistakes, they can sell things to me.
When I arrived few people paid much attention to Christmas and other Western holidays. For most people Christmas was when children got a week or more off from school. Western commercial holidays are now being exploited by local stores. However so far the commercialisation of Christmas has not reached the extremes of some places in the West. Some Western malls put up decorations and play Christmas music for several months or more.
The KCR line has been renamed. Many new MTR lines have opened in the last two decades and they are quite clean and efficient compared to those in other cities. Hong Kong still has the world's best public transportation.
I used to occasionally see people on the KCR having conversations with people who were not there. That was before mobile phones became common. Nowadays I see many more people supposedly talking on hands-free mobile phones. Although once, I noticed that the wire had fallen out of the owner's pocket and showed that they were talking with an unplugged hands-free microphone. I wonder how many of those people talking to themselves in public really have someone on the other end of the line. Mobile phones have become normal and common across the whole world.
Twenty years ago I often used computers, the internet and email. However most people in Hong Kong or the West did not. Everyone else has caught up with me.
Prices have doubled, but starting salaries have not. Young people need alternatives. 20 years ago, my choice in their place was to come to Hong Kong. I wonder where young people in Hong Kong will go.
Hong Kong has become more conservative about pornography. When I first arrived in Hong Kong I was shocked to see males reading pornography openly in public places, such as the bus, KCR, offices... Women were just expected to ignore it. This is no longer done.
Hong Kong is cleaner. Fewer people throw garbage out of their windows. And more people recycle.
I like to go hiking. When I first arrived in Hong Kong I noticed something weird. Very few local people ever went hiking and people told me that hiking was dangerous because of all the IIs. Before 1998 almost everyone I met in the hills was a Westerner. That year suddenly everything changed and I saw many Hong Kong Chinese hiking, at first mostly older people, and then everyone.
Politically there are only a few changes. There are more protests, which are now no longer polite and orderly. Since the 1997 handover, the government has changed from a foreign dictatorship to a local oligarchy. Although the way some foreign newspapers describe democracy in Hong Kong after 1997, you would think that their definition of democracy is having a Caucasian leader. Other changes are superficial. Of course UK passport holders now need a work visa. Taiwanese flags no longer decorate the streets on the 10th of October. The government gives us a day off for National Day, but not the Queen's birthday. Many children can speak a little Putonghua and it is no longer referred to as “the Northern Dialect”. The pre-1997 panic now seems naive.
Many things are the same. Many students still have a poor understanding of Chinese history. Many have not read the classics. (Why not? I have!) Many people with expensive cars still think that obeying traffic laws, such as stop signs and cross-walks is for poor people. Air pollution is still a problem. All societies change over time, while I have been here Western societies have also changed, but that is another story.
by John Larrysson
A native English speaker who has been teaching practical English in Hong Kong for two decades.
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