Cultural Translation



TRICK OR TREAT: Hong Kong Style

My best friend Anne described to me the cultural shock felt in her first year of living in Hong Kong, nineteen years ago.  Determined that her young son Teddy should celebrate Halloween as he would in North America, she searched high and low until she located the supermarket at The Peak that had imported pumpkins.  When she arrived to pickup her order of the valued commodity, she found the pumpkin chopped into smaller pieces!!  The well-meaning shopkeeper had broken the pumpkin into smaller units to enable Anne a taste of the expensive import - so she would not have to spend so much money  for the whole pumpkin, in case she might not like it.

Asians treat real estate as a commodity.  Unlike the North American approach to asset management and long term investment, Asians were the first to bring the condominium lifestyle and concept of pre-sales off floor plans to North America in the late '70's.

Here's another one.  In my profession as real estate funds manager, New York and Hong Kong are two cities where two-level apartments are referred to as duplex.  In most other markets in North America, duplex refers to two elements - side by side, and/or up and down.

Semantics are even more complex when values exist in different cultures.  The above are stories to illustrate that communications and values need to be clarified at the outset "Do I hear you correctly?" is an exercise fundamental to doing business anywhere in the world.  Internet technology is extremely helpful  to accomplish this.

It has already become fashionable to be in involved with business in the Pacific Rim.  It is becoming necessary in today's global economy to understand the psyche of the Asian business person.  If not to join them, then to be dligent as the wise sage Tsun-tzu taught, to study the enemy.  Westerners should not expect trust from their Asian counterparts.  This privilege is reserved for a select few who have demonstrated consistent loyalty and results.  The gesture is returned once trust has been established and oftentime the favour is returned with more than a few words of thanks.

The Asian meltdown of capital markets that emerged in the last quarter of 1997 demonstrated the inter- relationships of global markets and its effect on people's everyday lives.  Protectionism that was perceived as evil can now be viewed as different terms of cultural differences, not barriers.  As in the Chinese dialects, one word can have several meanings.   
   - by ANDREA ENG                                                                                                                           


This entry is for my dear friend Rebecca and is a discussion about  the cultural differences between East and West.   Not just in business etiquette but also logic and protocol.   

This is why we still keep talking about 'Cultural Bridge'.   This is a theme Vancouver-ites can discuss with authority.   Since 1966, Canada has been receiving educated Chinese immigrants from the rest of the world.

Besides being the largest Chinese community outside of Asia, Vancouver  now have a generation of well-to-do Hong Kong-ers who emigrated and retired to the city after Expo '86 or thereabouts.   When Li Ka-Shing's team redeveloped one-sixth of Downtown Vancouver and sold many units as recreation homes.        The city  experienced first hand the stumbling blocks with mainstream west including oftentimes discrimination because we are ethnic minority in the West.   But we are the first also to navigate or provide solutions.   In business, if we are to stay in the game at a world class level, there is no margin for error.    Western professionals (some of whom are Asian) just don't get that.   Its about Values.   

In a recent issue of FORBES just one Asian was awarded title as a "maverick".   The real issue is what is definition of a maverick??   

That's why need Cultural Bridge Brokers like us.   We speak West's vocabulary but we understand the headset of Asian society and the hierarchy that accompanies.   The difference is Values.   

The western publishers at FORBES intended the title 'maverick' as being exemplary that's why it was an award.   The West respect individuality.  However that did not translate when we read about the item in Asia.     The East values homogeneous society.   They instead created doubt as to the worthiness of that designation.

Same situation, different viewpoint.    From Oxford St in London to Robson St in Vancouver, Madison Avenue in NYC,  Orchard Road in Singapore or Central in Hong Kong, the issues we all face is still the same.    Indeed, Who are Real Chinese?!    Read about this fellow who still has a Mom!    Chinese around the world still face similar issues related to our cultural heritage.   Ai-yah!


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