Strange HK names

From an early age, children in Hong Kong are given ‘English’ names in addition to their Chinese names. I am told that it’s to increase their chances in making it in the world; that having an English name will make it easier in the future for them to make and do business with foreign companies, that it will be too confusing for foreign customers to have to deal with a Chinese name (which part of the three word name is the surname? which do they like to be called by?). In part I can understand this, though I don’t necessarily agree with it. However, this being so, unless the family have had much exposure to foreigners and foreign names already, some of the names they choose for their children leave a lot to be desired and would actually surely hinder the progress of their children in the future, rather than elevate it to the position they would hope for. Some, it seems, just open the dictionary and choose a cool word from inside, regardless of meaning.

Here is a (genuine) list of some of the names of people Helen or I have met or taught whose names are out of the ordinary!


































The Search for Possession Point

Living in Mei Foo, and with Tsim Sha Tsui more easily accessible and convenient for us, we don’t venture onto Hong Kong Island all too often unless we have a reason to. Usually the  reasons involve heading to Wan Chai for immigration, or tax, or embassy purposes, but occasionally someone has a leaving do and we trundle over and take advantage while we’re there of visiting places or seeing things we normally can’t be bothered to justify an explicit visit just for.


Possession St

Last weekend was just one such visit, and we found ourselves on Hollywood Road, famous for it’s antiques shops, the Man Mo temple and its use in the area name SoHo, meaning South of Hollywood Road (towards the centre of the island, and heading sharply up the hill). I’d only really looked around Sheung Wan, the area to the west of Hollywood Road, when I first arrived in HK last August, and then it was too hot to do much looking around, and was more searching for an area with air con and a cool drink, and I’d wanted to go and see Possession Point, the area of Hong Kong where the British first hit terra firma when they arrived in 1841. I wasn’t entirely aware of where exactly Possession Point was, but thought it was out west somewhere. A quick look at a smart phone would have cleared up the matter instantly, but my network was blocked by my Japanese provider and I’ve only been able to use the internet on my smart phone through Wifi in the flat or at work.

Sheung Wan

Sheung Wan

We thought it wise in heading out west to take the Queens Road escalators, the world’s longest covered escalator, up the hill and walk down, rather than need to walk up the hill later on. Curiosity overcame us, and we realised that in a year in HK, we’d never actually been to the top of the escalators, only about half way up where the bars and the Sun Yat Sen Museum is.

Reaching the top of the escalators, we headed west  along Conduit Road, past lots of des res tower blocks, with golden gates, and names like “Peace Plaza” and “Tranquility House”. Trying to get a glimpse of the harbour from our new found height was impossible due to the density of the buildings even halfway up the hill at Mid Levels, and it’s a bloody steep hill. We kept walking along trying to find a path back down, and stumbled upon a little ‘sitting area’ off the main road. We couldn’t see an exit from the road, but were sure that having to go down some steep steps to get into a parky area with trees and benches, there must be an exit down the bottom somewhere. There wasn’t, so all the way back up to the top we came. It was pretty humid by now, 4 o’clock on a Sunday, although we’d been lucky with the weather as it had poured down earlier in the day.


Hollywood Road Park

With there not looking like being an escape path in sight, we ended up catching a taxi and enjoying the air con luxury as it took us to Kennedy Town, to the very west of the island and at the bottom of the hill again. In Kennedy Town, we popped into McDonalds as we needed the toilet, and in there checked on the free wifi a map of where this place was actually supposed to be. Cue nervous laughter as we see it was back towards Sheung Wan, and actually very near Hollywood Road where we’d started off our trek what must have been an hour earlier. At which point the heavens opened again and we were stranded with no umbrella.

Twenty minutes or so later, the rain looked like it had eased off, but just to be sure we bought another from 7/11 and we went to take a tram back towards Sheung Wan and Central, and so to Possession Point. Not knowing where to get off, we did so too early and had to ask directions again in a hotel, and the concierge had never heard of the place! Finally, exhausted and a mix of wet and sweaty (the 7/11 umbrellas are rubbish) we stumbled upon a sign pointing back to Possession Point! We’d finally found it!

Owing to land reclamation, Possession Point is now about 400m from the sea, and as part of the reclamation turned into Hollywood Road Park. The original area is marked by Possesion Street. The inscription on the sign outside the park reads:

Well before any reclamation of Victoria Harbour, the shortest crossing between western Hong Kong Island and the Tsim Sha Tsui headland was the original shorefront near present day Queen’s Road Central and Wellington Street. The area was a natural landing place for boats and as a result, this was the site or it is said, of a ferry jetty in pre-colonial times. It was here that sailors from the Royal Navy landed 26 January 1841. The naval party walked up a small hillock just above the landing spot, raised the Union Jack, and claimed possession of Hong Kong Island. Understandably, this area became known as Possession Point, and today’s Possession Street reflects the old name. Possession Street soon became a densely packed residential area. Possession Point, originally left as an open space, eventually became a maze of fortune teller stalls. In time, Possession Point was redeveloped into a Chinese-style garden and renamed Hollywood Road Park.




Conduit Road, Mid Levels


Leaving Kennedy Town on the tram



Hollywood Road Park


Some of the common English errors in Hong Kong

Learners of English all over the world struggle with many aspects of the language, some are common, such as particular vocabulary or grammar points, but some are perhaps more specific in each country. Here are some of the quirks and foibles I’ve noticed about Hong Kong learners

1) ‘There have’ for ‘there is/are’

A direct translation from Cantonese, but still surprisingly prevalent even in higher level speakers. Examples include ‘in my class there have 30 students’ and ‘at the party, there had much food and drink’

2) ‘How to spell?’

A really frustrating one, something which some of my more advanced students told me was taught in schools as it’s so widespread. They genuinely had no idea they were making a mistake as no one had ever corrected them before. Particularly used in sentences like ‘How to speak this word?’ and ‘How to spell that word?’, but far more widely spread than just those questions, it seems like I’m correcting to ‘How do you say…?’ almost every day!

3) 2 weeks later for ‘in 2 weeks’

I’ll see you 2 hours later, I have an exam 3 days later, sometimes even ‘my lesson starts after 5 minutes’. All wrong, all annoying.

4) I haven’t for ‘I don’t have’

I don’t understand the ‘why’ for this one so much as there are much fewer mistakes with other verbs, but making the present simple negative of ‘to have’ is a stumbling block in Hong Kong. Sometimes they could just about get away with it (‘I haven’t time to finish my homework now’) so I can see why they haven’t been corrected before, but others (‘I haven’t a brother’) need to be stamped out early on.

5) Using very as a verb modifier

Especially in sentences such as ‘I very like sushi’ and ‘I very enjoy watching TV’

6) Countable and uncountable nouns

A common difficulty for most learners of English whose native language doesn’t have plurals and articles.

7) Gone or been as past participles of go

Admittedly a confusing one until it’s pointed out to them, as most verb tables won’t even list ‘been’ as a p.p., but still wryly amusing as you’re asked ‘have you gone to Thailand?’ – no, I’m still here with you guys!

8) General pronunciation errors

Especially the /ɪd/ past tense ending (most of the time non-existent) and pronouncing ‘taxi’ as /tæx/