Three random thoughts from a Hong Kong millennial.
1. Hong Kong’s favorite compliment for kids
I’m at that age where I’m seeing a lot more babies in social gatherings, mostly kids of cousins or friends. And it’s brought back a big pet peeve of mine: when people compliment children as gwai (乖). It’s literally THE most common praise handed out to children in Hong Kong, and it usually means “good and obedient,”at least in this context*.
I cringe every time that happens. Why would anyone encourage kids to simply follow orders? Why is obedience automatically seen as a good trait? It’s sick. It’s herd mentality that you’re encouraging. I mean, if kids listened to you and said please or thank you, praise them for being polite — not just for doing what you asked them to do.
This mentality can stick with Hong Kong kids into adulthood. When I asked a friend what kind of girl he looked for a few years back, he said: “Someone gwai lor.” Gwai (乖), in this case, takes on a new layer of meaning. He means someone who is not too ambitious or outspoken, someone who doesn’t have a “tattoo or things like that,” someone who fits what society expects a “good girl” to be.
I was so pissed off for such a long time, because I felt that the idea of a “gwai” child is part of the reason this person devalues ambition, independent thinking and individuality in a woman.
*Super weird thing is, if you review the origins of the word itself, ‘gwai’ actually means ‘disobedience’ and was used to refer to someone who is slightly sly and knows how to flatter others.
2. Being a gwai kid and a rebel
The thing is, as much as I hate the word gwai, I’ve been complimented as such growing up and even still as an adult. I just can’t shake off the image of being the gwai kid. I still can’t.
I mean, I do all the things that Chinese parents like: I get good grades, I’m not a picky eater, I like fruits and vegetables, I love reading, I’m soft-spoken, I like staying home, I actually don’t hate my family.
People close to me, however, will know that I am a rebel at heart, and mostly at the tiniest, silliest things. That’s probably because I survive reasonably okay in the establishment, so I find other things to rebel against.
For example, I hate discounted deals that tell me what to do, like ‘buy $1,000 and get $50 off,’ or ‘buy 3 to get 1 free.’ I only need these two items and don’t care about your marketing gimmick, thank you very much!
I refuse to own a proper suit for occasions like job interviews. I jaywalk. Another thing I hate is set meals. Don’t tell me what to eat! So at KFC the other day, secretly rebelling against the set meal, I decided to order two fried chicken pieces a la carte instead even though it cost a lot more.
This is precisely why I prefer cats. Cats are just inherently the opposite of gwai.
3. Stop saying “strong women”
Ann Friedman, writer and host of one of my favorite podcasts Call Your Girlfriend, on why we’re better off without “strong women”:
“Presidential candidate Ted Cruz recently held a ‘celebration of strong women’ event. Fast Company offers an ongoing series of articles on women in business called ‘Strong Female Lead.’ Actor Chris Hemsworth promoted his latest film by touting its ‘kick-ass, strong female characters.’
I struggle to name a single weak woman I know. And yet when ‘strong women’ are singled out as exceptional, weakness is the implied norm. A Huffington Post listicle on ‘dating a strong woman’ cautions potential suitors that she won’t put up with disrespect, mindless conversations or ‘any fluff.’ Apparently the typical single woman loves disrespect and inane text messages.”