Only in HK

When I returned from London my self appointed life coach took a good look at my face and said approvingly, ‘You are whiter’.  In HK this is code or shorthand for you look prettier because the fairer you are the better.  Forget about the healthy tan that the West crave and pay good money to achieve with tanning salons and sunbeds.  Shelves in pharmacies are filled with cosmetics which will whiten your complexion.  I suspect they are pumped full of chemicals and very bad for your skin, I mean, how else would they lighten it?  A bit like hair dye, you are forcing what is natural to change.

When the eager sales assistants try the hard sale on me I tell them with a straight face that I actually am proud of my darker complexion and they look aghast as if I am insane or uttered the unthinkable.

Can one be ‘racist’ against one’ own people?  After all nobody with both parents who are Chinese will ever be truly ‘white’, so this smacks subconsciously of a worship of the foreign.  I was surprised when a local friend informed me that if my ex and I had been living in HK I would have gained a higher status purely by being married to a white man.  How bizarre.  Why, I ask?  Because a white person in HK would not be living on the poverty line.

This love of all things foreign extends to South Korea and previously Japan.  Any item from said country will have a huge mark up and the same enthusiastic assistants will point out its superior quality compared to I guess products from the Mainland.  HK relies totally on imports because all its manufacturing industries have died because it is simply a lot more economical to have factories in China as the labour is dirt cheap.  Nobody farms anymore as it is back breaking work under the scorching sun and anyway it is hugely more lucrative to sell the land to property developers on the prowl.

So I smile and graciously thank the boss of the local cafe for the compliment.  Back home I gaze into the mirror and whisper, ‘Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of us all?’


About cho wan yau

Teacher by day poet/writer by night. Words have been my first love and will be my last. As a child I locked myself into the toilet devouring books which transported me to distant lands. Poetry shared penned from 2009-2010 in a titanic struggle to stay sane at Heartbreak Hotel. Please check it out on Any comments or feedback welcome. Why not share your story with me, because we all have one, don't we?

Posted on December 27, 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I really dislike this fad in Asia to whiten one’s skin. I was aghast at the enormous whitening products in HK and Vietnam. It strikes me a bit as racist but I may be reading more into it than it simply being a money making scheme for the already rich cosmetic companies.

    • I’m not sure it is really ‘racist’, more the grass is greener on the other side, white people in the West want to have tanned skin and people with darker complexions want to swap places with the fairer fellow human beings. However there is definitely a common cultural pysche that foreign is better, whether it be products or husbands. Unsurprisingly this doesn’t apply if the wife is white and the man is a local as despite being in the 21st century and being one of the world’s financial centres, male chauvinism rules ok.

  2. I am not sure that many Asian advocates of fair skin actually look too deeply into the origin of that preference. It’s very prevalent as you say. Too the extent where it’s a trend amongst Chinese women from the mainland to wear full length bodysuits while swimming, this includes a facial mask that leaves only slits for the eyes.

    • I didn’t know that about the mainland Chinese ladies. What I do know is ladies all have their umbrellas up during the summer; at first I thought it was to protect from uv light and to prevent skin cancer. Now I know the real reason is they don’t want to catch a tan, even a natural one.

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