Exclude Living Here Living In Hong Kong

Lost in translation: a reader’s story

By: Suzanne Andrews

There’s something to be said for getting it wrong without the slightest intention. We call it miscommunication. There’s a lot to be said for living in Hong Kong as an expat and never quite getting it right. Nobody shall be blamed – it’s just an occupational hazard of living in this melting pot of cultures. I know it because I’ve lived it for seven years.

Getting it wrong

My first instance of getting it wrong came in the form of the “ex”. At the time, about six years ago, I was running my own fitness classes when a local restaurant owner, Min, mentioned she was keen to join us gals; of course, I invited her along. My “Bodyburn” routines, taken outdoors with soothing sea breezes, were a regular event. Min was keen to shake up her yoga for something more gruelling and weight-shedding. My class was exactly that.

I often invite women to my classes. Sometimes they follow through; sometimes they don’t. I know that finding time for an hour of self indulgence in the form of squats, lunges, tricep dips and a good deal of isometric torture in the evening isn’t always easy. It takes a great deal of courage and a distorted sense of objectivity to do this stuff.

Women texting

But back to the “ex”. I received a text one night and I guess the timing wasn’t great. I’d just broken up with a man who lived on Lantau Island and flew in the air above Lantau Island a lot. The Christmas wreath on the door of his apartment all year round should have indicated to me his need to celebrate Christmas with many women all year round, but I fell out of that short relationship feeling crushed. Infidelity is a sharp wound.

Then came the text: “I want to have ex with you” – with the sign-off, “Manny”. According to my phone, the text was sent from the restaurant where I regularly order satay chicken. It must have been a chef or waiter who’d sent it.

Who was this person? How dare he speak to me like that and assume I want a casual liaison? Did I look like a floozy – the type of woman in need of instant gratification and a text to that affect? I was fuming. And, because I was hurting after having my boyfriend cheat on me, I immediately went on the attack. I replied to the text with: “Who are you? How dare you contact me! And how did you get my number? Do not contact me again or I’m coming to get an apology from you in public.”


It was not until midnight when I was out with friends and sharing this story that I had my epiphany. “Manny” must be the restaurant owner – who I knew as “Min”. And all she was doing was trying to convey her desire to attend my Bodyburn class… I’d sent her an abusive text after she’d used “ex” in a sentence that I’d interpreted wrongly, mainly because of the syntax and definitely because of a language barrier. How embarrassing. Like really embarrassing.

The very next day, I went for Eggs Benedict in the restaurant and Min was there, with a smile on her face. I approached her without hesitation and apologised. I don’t think she really knew what I was on about, and she’ll probably never realise that her perfectly normal request for exercise, signing off with a name I didn’t know she used, made me mistake her for someone asking me for sex. But then, if you’d received a similar text signed off with what could be a man’s name, don’t you think it’d be easy to misinterpret?

Maybe; maybe not. It’s Hong Kong. It’s also all about timing and how you see the world from your inner world. It’s easy to get it wrong without even trying, and especially after a break-up. The moral of the story is: never assume; just never assume!

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This article first appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.