Glossary of Hong Kong Terms

Hong Kong in a Nutshell

Hong Kong is a tiny region on the south coast of China, at the mouth of the Pearl River Estuary. It consists of Hong Kong Island, the Kowloon Peninsula, the inland New Territories, and numerous islands, both inhabited and uninhabited. First occupied by British opium traders in 1840, it became a colony in 1841. Hong Kong Island and Kowloon were part of the permanent colony, while the New Territories were "leased" for 99 years in 1898.

The expiration of that lease in 1997 prompted fierce negotiations between Britain and China culminating in the Sino-British Joint Declaration, signed by Margaret Thatcher and Zhao Jiyang, the Chinese Premier, in 1984. This document promised HK special status as a "Special Administrative Region" of China for 50 years after 1997, including retaining the capitalist system and existing freedoms of speech, religion, etc.

In 1990 China enacted the Basic Law, which enshrined all the above promises. Hong Kong people, skeptical of China's promises (the same "rights" are guaranteed in China's own Consitition), began emigrating to other countries in great numbers. The current population of Hong Kong is 7.5 million people. The date of the transfer of sovereignty was July 1, 1997. It is a weird, wonderful, infuriating, aggravating, and stimulating place to live, work or visit.

 
Ah-Ba father (affectionate term)
amah house maid
Astronaut HK person whose family has moved abroad (i.e. alien territory) to secure passports, but who himself spends much of the year back in Hong Kong (i.e. the center of the earth) to make money. See also "Passport Widow"
ban mui Filipina (derogatory term)
Basic Law Constitution for post-handover Hong Kong
BDTC British Dependent Territories Citizen passport; imparts second-class "British" citizenship
bei nose
BLCC Basic Law Consultative Committee; helped write Basic Law
BN(O) British National (Overseas) worthless so-called passport
brain drain prior to 1997, anyone with a brain left HK, for fear of having their brains blown apart by PLA troops
bubble gum this is illegal in Singapore
CAAC Chinese national airline; stands for "Chinese Airliners Always Crash"
Cantonese Chinese dialect spoken in Hong Kong
catty Chinese unit of weight; approx. 1.33 lb/0.7 kg
CCTV Chinese Central Television; official national network
Certificate of No
Criminal Conviction
Required by most countries for immigration purposes
Chief Secretary Government second-in-command
CMB China Motor Bus; HK bus company known for reckless drivers
choi sum delicious Chinese vegetable
Chow, Selina outspoken arch-wishy-washy Legco member
cognac as advertised, something to be consumed only in the presence of men
congee rice porridge
conservative in HK context, someone whose politics are somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun
Consumer Council HK government body that investigates retail malpractice
daai paai dong low-priced street-side restaurant
Daya Bay Chinese nuclear power plant just upwind of Hong Kong
Deep Bay bay between northwest New Territories and China
Democratic Party pro-democracy party; most popular party in HK. Branded "traitors" by Beijing
Deng Xiaoping late Chinese dictator
dim sum tasty dumplings served literally a la carte, on carts wheeled table-to-table in Chinese restaurants.
Disco Bay Discovery Bay (see below)
Discovery Bay bland, antiseptic housing development on Lantau Island
dollar 1 Hong Kong dollar (HK$1.00) = US$0.13
Dunn, Lydia former Senior Member of Executive Council
EPD Environmental Protection Department
Exco Executive Council
Executive Council Governor's appointed cabinet of advisors
expat expatriate; normally refers to Caucasian residents of Hong Kong
faan gwailo more belligerent term than gwailo
Fat Pang Chinese nickname for Chris Patten
FM Select local radio station
fung shui Chinese traditional belief in good fortune in relation to geographical alignment of structures; used by HK immigrants abroad to explain cutting down every tree in sight
Giordano clothing retailer founded by Jimmy Lai, an outspoken critic of Beijing
Grand Bauhinia Medal Top award given by the HK government for public service (and too often for political subservience)
Green card identity card given to legal immigrants by the USA government (by the way, it isn't really green)
Group of 89 pre-handover paleo-reactionary business political lobby group
Guangzhou major Chinese city near Hong Kong (also called Canton)
gwai ghost; demon
gwai jai child gwailo (literally: junior demon)
gwaipoh female gwailo
gwailo "demon man"; in other words, a foreigner
Hainan island province in southern China
HKJC Hong Kong Jockey Club
HKTA Hong Kong Tourist Association
H.M.S. Tamar base where British Navy was located in central business district
hoi moon lai see lucky money given by a groom to bridesmaids to make them "open the door" to his bride before a wedding
Hunan province in China
Hung Hom low rent district in Kowloon
hung mo gwai "red haired demon"; belligerent term for gwailo
II illegal immigrant
Inland Revenue tax department
Ip, Regina

Secretary for Security, humourless woman whose concept of security was to jeapordize Hong Kong's security in order to further her own job security

Iron Buddha popular variety of high-quality Chinese tea
Jiang Zemin Chinese president; successor to Deng Xiaoping
Joi gin Goodbye
Joint Declaration 1984 pact, in which Britain agreed to hand over Hong Kong to China
Joint Liaison Group Sino-British group to discuss Hong Kong issues
Kai Tak Hong Kong's international airport
Kowloon peninsula which forms part of Hong Kong
Lan Kwai Fong entertainment district in Hong Kong where all the trendy young foreigners hang out
Lantau Island outlying island; site of new airport (under construction)
Lau, Emily outspoken, independent pro-democracy activist and elected member of Legco
Lee, Martin leading pro-democracy politician
Legco Legislative Council; Hong Kong's quasi-legislature
Li Peng murderous fascist dog; er, I mean Premier of the PRC
Li, Richard son of tycoon Li Kashing. Of course Richard started his own businesses without Daddy's help!
Liberal Party extremely un-liberal party of wafflers, toadies and nincompoops
Lo Wu border crossing point between Hong Kong and mainland China
Lu Ping former Chinese government official in charge of HK affairs
Macanese native of Macau
Macau Portuguese colony near HK; reverts to China in 1999
mafoo stable master; trainer of racing horses
Mai Po Marsh wildlife preserve along the border with China
Mandatory Provident Fund mandatory private pension fund for all HK employees
Mark Six Lottery; held twice weekly
Mid-Levels overpriced upper-middle-class district on HK Island; also renowned for potholes
Mongkok Kowloon district crowded with people and boutiques
MPF Mandatory Provident Fund: retirement fund which all HK workers are now required to set up
MTR Mass Transit Railway; the subway train system
Mui, Anita Hong Kong pop music diva
NCNA New China News Agency (see "Xinhua")
New China News Agency see "Xinhua"
Nathan Road major shopping area and traffic corridor of Kowloon
Nei ho Cantonese for "How are you" or "hello"
New Territories northern half of Hong Kong's area
Ngoi foo Father-in-law (wife's father)
Ni hao ma Mandarin for "How are you" or "hello"
O.B.E. Order of the British Empire; honor bestowed by the Queen
Oolong type of Chinese tea
O'Shea, Rick HK-based American disk jockey
Pacific Place posh shopping mall on HK Island
Passport prison Country such as Canada or Australia, where HK people reluctantly "do time" while waiting for to qualify for full citizenship
Passport widow HK immigrant who remains in Passport Prison in order to secure citizenship, while the spouse commutes to Hong Kong to work (see "Astronaut")
Patten, Chris last British Governor of Hong Kong; loathed by China
PCCW Pacific Century Cyber Works; company founded by Richard Li
The Peak posh residential area on top of Victoria Peak
PRC People's Republic of China
Preliminary Working Committee (PWC) collection of shoe-shiners appointed by Beijing to set up the post-handover government
Prince's Building Central building which attempted to discourage entry to Filipina maids
Provisional Legislature China-appointed replacement for the elected Legislative Council
Public Order Ordinance HK law empowering government to restrict the press, political parties and public gatherings
renminbi monetary unit in China
Repulse Bay upper class area on south side of Hong Kong island
RHKJC Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club
Right of abode The only British colonial subjects who have right of abode in the UK come from Caucasian-majority colonies (Gibraltar & Falklands)
RSPCA Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
Sam's Famous tailor in Kowloon
SAR Special Autonomous Region; what HK is under Chinese rule
Scarborough "New Hong Kong"; Toronto suburb
Shenzhen Chinese industrial city bordering Hong Kong
shoe shiner Cantonese term for sycophant or "bootlicker"
Si ga bo lo Scarborough (Cantonese transliteration), a Toronto suburb favored by HK immigrants
Sing Daan
Faai Lok
Merry Christmas
snakehead smuggler of illegal immigrants
Star Ferry ferry between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon (a 7-minute ride)
TELA Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority
to taam to spit; another of Hong Kong's national pastimes
Tolo Harbour highly polluted body of water in New Territories
triad Chinese criminal gang
Tsim Sha Tsui tourist district, known for dishonest shopkeepers
Tsim Sha Tsui East district known for night clubs popular with triads and Chinese officials
Tsing Tao popular (and good!) Chinese beer
Tung Chee-Hwa Shipping tycoon appointed by Beijing to be HK's Chief Executive since the handover
turtle's egg highly derogatory Chinese insult
TVB Jade HK's most popular television station
United Democrats previous name for Democratic Party (see above)
Urban Council responsible for museums, libraries and parks
VR Vietnamese refugee
voluntary repatriation when a VR returns to Vietnam under pressure rather than being forced back in chains
wai Cantonese way to answer the telephone
Xinhua (pron. "Shin-wa") New China News Agency; China's de facto embassy in British-ruled Hong Kong. Since the 1997 handover it might actually be a news agency.
Yip, Ronnie Chinese soft-porn movie "actress"
Zhongnanhai Central government compound in Beijing, where top leaders work and live
14K major criminal triad gang
1997 On July 1, 1997, Hong Kong ceased to be a British colony and became a Chinese one instead
8 lucky number in Cantonese, means "wealth"
88 twice as lucky as number 8
Lily WongLily Wong
Home Page
Lily Wong booksLily Wong
Books