Love Lost in Translation: A HK-TW Relationship More 'Mixed' Than Imagined

Love Lost in Translation: A HK-TW Relationship More 'Mixed' Than Imagined
Photo Credit: Scott Webb

With every passing week, the moment of marrying a Hong Kong family for life draws more near for me. Spending time together should be a breeze by now, having been with my fiancé for almost five years. We have had numerous meals and family vacations with his family in Hong Kong and my family in Taiwan. I couldn’t ask for better in-laws and a future sister who are kind, supportive and fun to be around. But it still makes me nervous when I wonder how I will build a closer relationship with them in marriage despite our language and cultural differences. Most importantly, I wonder how we will raise our future children to feel equally close to both families.

Blending with my new family is an ongoing process—it’s a journey every couple must navigate regardless if they are from different cultural backgrounds or not. Hong Kong was once a mythical place and culture I never thought I would be connected to. Through our relationship, I have discovered some cultural nuances between Taiwan and Hong Kong hidden beneath our shared similarities:

1. Language: On the surface, we’re not exactly an interracial couple, but my inability to speak Cantonese does lend perspective on what other mixed couples go through. It can be an isolating experience when I’m unable to relate to other family members as they do with each other. The fact that I need my fiancé to translate has brought tension between us. Yet, Hong Kong people are more linguistically diverse compared to Taiwan given their historical English influences and current Chinese influence.

2. Speaking tone: Mandarin speakers and Cantonese speakers have very different speaking tones. While Mandarin is softer and higher in tone, Cantonese is more direct and rigid. Although we tend to decipher messages in the way they’re delivered—we raise our voices to convey assurance and approval, and lower our voices to convey disapproval and anger, with Cantonese, I have had learn to discern the message from the way it’s packaged.

3. Gifts vs. words: Hong Kong people show their love with gifts. When they want to express their care and appreciation, they show it tangibly with generous and practical gifts. For instance, I have gratefully received an iPhone 6, clothes, makeup, and trips overseas. They are mindful of making one’s life easier with practical things. When Taiwanese people want to share their appreciation, they might give a gift or two, but they tend to shower you with their time and kind words over small talk with a few compliments or well wishes.

4. The “Time is money” mentality: Everything in Hong Kong moves a step faster than the rest of the world. In society, that translates to getting faster service at restaurants, timely responses to emails, and never a delay in getting paid for work done. At home, moving to a different bean means being the last to finish a meal and being misunderstood as being irresponsible to time.

5. Phone attachment: Call me old-fashioned but I prefer to leave phones off of dining tables and during family time. It is much more accepted in Hong Kong for everyone to be swiping their phones during meals. It’s harder to instill a sense of a distraction-free environment when it’s culturally acceptable.

Photo Credit: Cayton Heath

Photo Credit: Cayton Heath

It is commonly said that language is the gateway to a new world of ideas and perspectives. Learning Cantonese seems like an epic task and I have felt discouraged many times. But if someone like Mark Zuckerberg can learn Mandarin, I can make greater strides to bridge our differences.

Edited by Olivia Yang


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