Monthly Archives: February 2012

What’s Punti?

Though not so commonly used in the U.S., the term “putonghua” (普通话)literally translated as “the common language,” is the usual way to describe Mandarin Chinese here in Hong Kong.  It is so common that even the British judge in one of my recent cases referred to the language as such, confusing my American co-counsel who had flown from Boston to attend the hearing. But what I did not know was that “punti” was a reference commonly used to refer to Cantonese here in Hong Kong.

“Punti” or “本地”means “origin language” – and according to wikipedia is meant to

[refer] to the Cantonese-speaking populations of Guangdong province in southern China. They are contrasted with another Han Chinese linguistic group, the Hakka, which settled in the area after the Punti peoples and follow different cultural traditions. 

Like my Bostonian colleague, I first came across this terminology in court by way of the transcripts, in which the Cantonese interpreter was described as having interpreted in punti.

I also learned in my travels in the Mainland that “baihua” (白话), literally  “white language,” is also a common reference to Cantonese.  Why that is, I have not figured it out.  Wikipedia does not shed light on that, and it has entries referring to the modern vernacular Chinese (versus classical “wenyan” or “文言”) as well as some particular dialect of Yunnan’s Bai people.  But I do suspect it has something to do with the fact that Cantonese has much deeper roots in China than Mandarin — something I’ve discussed in previous posts extolling Cantonese. Check out this forum for some relevant discussion.



OLQE Results Out for 2011 Exams!

As I can see from a post by Sam in the About page, OLQE results have been mailed out! Congratulations to everyone who has passed their exams. As for those who did not, there is nothing to feel ashamed of — it is not an easy exam to do, especially while working.

Working in HK: Finding a (Law) Job!

The Chinese New Year is at its end, and this means two things – most folks in Hong Kong will have received their year-end bonuses, and headhunters will be a-calling!  Hong Kong still seems to be a place of opportunity – the three-month period ending December 31, 2011 unemployment rate for Hong Kong appears to be a low low 3.3%, and from my own anecdotal experience, I don’t see people unemployed for long in Hong Kong.  Plus, I’m not the only one I’ve known who has arrived in Hong Kong unemployed with limited connections and resources, but lucky to emerge at some point later with a steady paycheck. 

In a past post, I promised to write on the topic of job searching, noting that some readers might find it interesting.  Below, I will share some of the avenues I explored in the two years leading to me finding my current job, which, as I’ve mentioned enough times, I really love.  But please take note, my search was oriented for someone with a law degree and mid-level experience.

Headhunters (or Recruiters for the More PC)
At times Hong Kong feels absolutely saturated with recruiters.  There is even a free circulation handed out periodically on job hunting, most likely funded by loads of ads from such headhunters.  The thing with Hong Kong is that job hopping isn’t looked down upon as it is in the U.S., and with so many switching jobs even in under a year’s time just to make a better dollar (or even to get a better gym membership) at another outfit, headhunters stand to make good money on this constant revolving door of hires.

The problem is that given such a job-seekers market, headhunters don’t need to be particularly skillful, or socially conscious.  Within a month of my joining my current firm, a headhunter cold-called me to see if I wanted to look at options — why on earth would that make any sense?  Clearly this guy didn’t do any diligence except comb the internet for potential candidates without doing any careful reading!

The better headhunters tend to look for “easy” hires only, so when I was not as marketable as I am today, few quality headhunters gave me a moment of their time.  But I will admit that I’ve met at least 1 headhunter that took the time to get to know me and think about possible placements that would suit me through thick and thin – so it exists.  Generally, though I don’t recommend the headhunter route too much.

Networking does work, and especially in Hong Kong where the interconnectivity of people, particularly people with influence, is so great given how small the community is.  Indeed, that is how I found my first job — a friend from New York mentioned having worked with a lawyer who moved to Hong Kong, whose husband had a litigation background.  I reached out, and we met for more of an “informational interview,” and then a few months later, on following up just to catch up, he brought me my last opportunity.

When I first came to Hong Kong, I was just trying to find anyone who would meet with me.  I found people from my personal networks, alumni networks, even through people I’d just meet.  Hong Kong expats are incredibly friendly and alwayas happy to help.  Given how small the community is, giving to others is how you get, so don’t be shy.

There are also numerous regular networking events in Hong Kong, since the market is so hungry for better jobs on a regular basis.  There’s “Thirsty Thursdays” and many other similar events linked in with bars or clubs — whether attendees are looking for jobs or dates may be unclear, but you will find lots of name cards being exchanged at such events.  So if you are unemployed, you should consider making up some cards — they are very cheap in Hong Kong (just check out any of the stands over by that alley across from Wing On).

Online Networking
This is not a paid plug, but I honestly found LinkedIn to be extremely useful.  Again, due to the high volume of jobs in Hong Kong, professional networking online takes another level for groups associated with Hong Kong.  With a fairly informative profile, I found lots of headhunters requesting to connect, including the in-house recruiter for a large international insurance company.  And while I warn that headhunters aren’t the most useful, they post job requests on LinkedIn feeds frequently.  Also there are many LinkedIn groups that do the same, and are also very useful to join to get an idea of what jobs are floating around out there.

Answering Ads
The Law Society regularly posts a weekly circular where job ads, complete with employer names and requirements (unlike those posted by headhunters), are posted.  If you aren’t a member of the Law Society already, ask any registered foreign lawyer or solicitor if they can forward these to you.  I ended up answering many of these ads myself, and found a decent level of interest from this platform.  Whoever says that firms don’t read these job applications was wrong – they do and they are interested in avoiding paying headhunters’ fees!

There are also quite a few good websites in HK that you can look at to find relevant jobs:

–  JobsDB posts just about any kind of job (from tea lady to corporate counsel)

eFinancialCareers does have a finance bend to it, but if you’re interested in compliance, and other bank-based jobs, this is also a good spot

CQrecruit is a site where law firms directly post and can post interest in your resume – kind of like the of law jobs in Hong Kong.  I’ve gotten a few pings here and interviews too, though it will have more “local” jobs.  The big firms also post here (I’ve seen posts from large US and UK law firms).

Also be sure to troll law firm websites.  Though not as common among the US sites, UK firms tend to post their vacancies.  Either way, it never hurts to take a look.

These are all resources I employed when looking to be employed, and I got bites from each of these avenues!  For anyone looking to find a new job in Hong Kong – best of luck! My advice is to stay diligent and just go for it!

Working in HK: Don’t Forget About the Lai See! (Part II)

I wanted to clarify another point about my first post on lai see/Chinese New Year — having grown up in the US, while my family still celebrated Chinese New Year quite traditionally, we didn’t get public holidays, and the tradition of giving out red envelopes stayed within the confines of family to family, and wasn’t something you’d see happening at work — so that’s how this experience has really differed for me in Hong Kong.

Today – though not within the first week of CNY, but still well within the 15-day celebration period, I handed lai see to our tea lady, which I’ve already praised so much about.   My secretary, upon my handing her her lai see told me that some folks additionally gave red envelopes to the tea lady and the messengers, and anyone who helped them out a lot during the year.  So today, I gave our dear sweet tea lady a small gift (HK$100) to show some appreciation.

She was very gracious about it and said I didn’t have to do that but of course I insisted.  A colleague was in the pantry when I did it, and replied – if you don’t take it, I’ll take it! And followed up – you must take all the lai see you can get! I supported that comment, especially because of what good care Jenny takes of all of us!

I actually felt so good to be able to make this small gesture to show my appreciation.  While HK$100 isn’t really a lot of money (as I griped about in bad form earlier), it also actually is quite a lot in Hong Kong, where the minimum wage of HK$28 (~US$3.60) was only just finally passed in July 2010!

This very warm feeling was, in a sense, a new thing for me, since as an unmarried person I’ve never been accustomed to giving lai see in the past.  And as cheap as I can be at times, I have to say, generosity sure does pay back!