The streets were full of things that were new to me. I could not read the huge colourful neon signs, except the trademarks which were in English characters like those of cigarettes and photographic equipment. The billboards and signs seemed to stretch across the street, looking like tapestries being hanged outside the buildings to dry.
This is a journey of a French young woman turning into a Honghonger. From the bizarre wet market to colourful decorations for local festivities, Christine invites you to enjoy her daily adventures in a Chinese society where she calls home.
Christine Cappio was born in Lyon, a city in east-central France. She went to Paris in 1983 to study Applied Arts in Ceramics, where she met a young Chinese man who later became her husband. She has been living in Hong Kong since her arrival in 1986.
Being able to speak Cantonese has helped her integrate into the local community and this vibrant international metropolis.
After having worked for 20 years in the private sector and the French International School, she started in 2006 doing volunteer work for several non-profit organzations, including Hong Chi Association, Virtus Foundation, Tung Wah Group of Hospitals, and more recently the Hong Kong Federation of Women’s Centres.
Preface by Christine
When two people are destined to be together the Chinese say it is fate. I had never imagined that one day I would permanently live in Hong Kong – the “fragrant
harbour”, speaking Cantonese and Mandarin with a detectable French accent, happily eating exotic dishes, comfortably wandering in busy streets.
I was not yet 22 years old when I left my family and my friends in France to join Yan in Hong Kong. I loved him with all my heart. I did not think about what I would be doing or what life I was going to have. I was young and determined, embarking an exciting trip of many unknowns. I gradually discovered the way of life of Hongkongers and their culture. I learnt Chinese cuisine and to appreciate the tastes, beliefs, and habits. Although the biggest hindrance living in Hong Kong has been, and still is, the language, I quickly got used to the life in the“fragrant harbour” and made the life-changing decision: this will be my home, one that I will never regret.
Almost 30 years later, I am no longer a gweimui1 but a gweipo2 . I have spent more years in Hong Kong than in France. Do I feel more like a Hongkonger than French? Even though I might consider myself a local, I will always be seen as a gweipo, chiefly because of the colour of my skin. Being called a gweipo no longer offends me but being treated like one does.
I thank my husband for his unwavering love and continuous support during all the past years. I also owe his family for unconditionally accepting and welcoming
me as one of their own. Finally, this book is my tribute to my parents who let me go so far away from them and all my friends in Hong Kong who have showered me with
generosity and warmth that I cannot find anywhere else but only here in Hong Kong.
In Hong Kong
Preface by Mr. Eric Berti
Preface by Mr. Matthew Cheung Kin-chung
Preface by Professor Wong Yin-lee
Preface by Professor Stephen Cheung Yan-leung
Preface by Christine
First trip to Hong Knog
Discovering Hong Kong
Central and Tsim-Sha-Tsui
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Return to Hong Kong
Finding a job
Our wedding day
Living in Hong Kong
The wet market
Cause way Bay
My first typhoon
First job and commuting
Taking the elevator at“Easy Prosperity”
A few differences
What I missed
Care and education
Our first home
Other homes and areas
Mainland China and Macau - 1986 and after
Honeymoon in Shenzhen
Transformation in Mainland Chian and Macau since 1986
Hiking and day trips
Jobs and Cantonese
Food in Hong Kong
Hong Kong-style milk tea
Crustaceans and live fish
Peking duck and roast meat
Lunar New Year
Homophones and decoration
Spring-cleaning and new garments
Distribution of lai sees
Turnip cake and candies
Third day and lion dance
The Moon Festival
Hong Kong and China – 30 years
All started at the end of my junior secondary when I chose to pursue a programme in applied arts. I did not want to follow the classic curriculum and take maths, literature, or economics subjects like my fellow students. If my mother had been like the Chinese tiger-mums, she would have definitely pushed me get the baccalaureate diploma and go to university at any cost. Even the career counsellor told me that artists only become famous after their death. However, my parents were open-minded and I was stubborn. So after obtaining a diploma in applied
arts in Lyon, I then went to Paris to get a higher diploma in industrial ceramic design.
Paris was at about 500 km from where my parents lived, so I applied for a student’s residence at the Nanterre University (Paris X) which accommodates foreign students studying in France and provincial students like me. Nanterre was in the western suburbs of Paris, at about 45 minutes – by train and metro – from the 15th
arrondissement where my school was located.
In September 1983, a few days after settling down in my room at Nanterre, the residence’s caretaker introduced me to an Architecture student, Momo, a Cameroonian who then introduced me to his friends. Among them was a young man from Hong Kong who seemed to be interested in me. His name was Yan. After learning that I already had a boyfriend in Lyon, however, he was avoiding me. While feeling attracted to him, I was unsure if I should start dating him. Momo’s wise advice was to let things happen naturally. One month later, my relationship with my Lyon boyfriend ended. I started seeing Yan. We quickly fell in love and became inseparable.
The Chinese name of Yan sounded like the French name Yann, the Breton form of John. His given name, composed of two characters, was Yan-leung, meaning benevolent and good-hearted respectively. With a name of “Yan-leung”, my new lover could not be bad! Yan showed me how to write his name. These two characters did not have too many strokes and were not difficult to write and remember!
Yan was a slim handsome man, with brown eyes, thick eyebrows, and long black hair. Later I would be the one who trimmed his hair. He was so cute in his blue quilted Mao-style jacket. To be sure, he was not totally perfect. Like many Hong Kong folks, he had myopia, which was recently corrected during his cataract surgery. Back then he was wearing contact lenses and when he woke up he could not see much without his thick framed glasses.
Yan was studying at University of Paris VI. Luckily, he was speaking fluent French albeit with a cute accent, so we could communicate easily. I had studied English since secondary school but like many French I could not speak it well. Yan had followed his older sister’s path and, like her, after studying French for two years at university he had applied for a two-year scholarship from the French Government, to further his studies in France. When I met him, it was his second year in Paris. Luckily a few months later he asked the French students’ welfare office to extend his scholarship so as to give him more time to complete his thesis. His request for an additional academic year was granted. This was great as we were able to stay one more year together.
About once a month, he invited me to a Chinese restaurant to have dim sum, those delicious bitesized food served in bamboo steamers. I liked to discover and taste the small dishes arriving all at once on our table. The rice flour rolls which are similar to translucent French crepes and the white barbecue buns at first seemed uncooked, but after tasting them I was astonished: despite their paleness they were really tasty. There were lots of various steamed dumplings that looked very delicate and exquisite. It was fun to try a bit of everything. These were only a preview of what was available in Hong Kong. I liked to tease Yan for being richer than I was. Although he was not as“rich as Croesus”, after paying for his monthly rent and transportation pass for Paris’ three circular zones, he had more money left in his pocket than I, and could afford to invite his poor French girlfriend to lunch.
To go with the dim sum Yan ordered pu-erh tea, the same tea he likes to drink every morning, a dark tea that coloured the inside of his teapot pitch-black. The pu-erh had a woody flavour and was different from the flavoured Earl Grey tea I used to drink with my mum. The only Chinese tea I had until that day was the Jasmine tea and each time I felt dizzy after drinking it, because as I learnt later, it was too cool for my body (according to Chinese traditional medicine). Pu-erh tea, however, was good for me and did not make me dizzy. I liked it not too concentrated and was still brown-golden in colour. During the week we came back to the hall late in the evening. We either had our dinner at the university cafeteria next to the students’ residence or we ate in my room. It was convenient and fast to open and reheat a can of sliced pork in Szechuan-style or pork luncheon meat that Yan had bought in Chinatown. Preparing rice was also very easy, thanks to Yan’s rice cooker. This was amazingly useful. How come French kitchen which are often well equipped did not have this appliance? But this diet was high in salt and fat and I was putting on weight. Somehow Yan did not seem to be affected by the same diet, thin as ever.