Hong Kong Moms: the go-to Facebook page for tips on sex toys, nappy rash and life
Facebook group Hong Kong Moms has exploded in popularity among expat women, its 14,500 members providing each other with advice and support on every conceivable problem, passion and perversion. Hazel and Simon Parry report
You’re an expatriate mum in Hong Kong and you’ve got things on your mind. You suspect your best friend’s husband is having an affair. What’s more, you’re fretting about whether your own sex life and bedtime habits are “normal”. And, on top of all that, you’re worried your baby son may be communicating with spirits from another world.
Should you keep your fears to yourself? Should you confide in your husband or a close friend? Or should you tell thousands upon thousands of strangers?
The answer for an increasing number of women is option three and the medium of choice for many is Hong Kong Moms, a Facebook group that has become something of an internet phenomenon. It has nearly 14,500 members, representing a sizeable proportion of the female expat population, and shines a revealing – and sometimes hilarious – light on the lives, loves and intrigues of expat wives across the city.
As the telephone-based Community Advice Bureau wound down, finally closing late last year after 40 years in operation, Hong Kong Moms’ reputa-tion for quirky, frank and sometimes explicit posts has made it popular not only among expat wives but local women, and an increasing number of husbands who unashamedly log in to catch up on the latest gossip. From the mundane and everyday to the audacious and outrageous, the group attracts about 1,000 posts and comments a day, on everything from how to deal with aggressive neighbours to where to buy supplies for a superhero-themed children’s party and what to do if you see a helper chewing up food before feeding it to a toddler.
It began about five years ago, when American mother-of-four Kara Arnaudy decided to swap tips on Hong Kong life with a small group of friends.
“When I first moved here, 10 years ago, I didn’t know anyone,” says Arnaudy, who arrived in Hong Kong from Tokyo with her British husband before their children were born. “I felt like I was climbing Mount Everest every day. It was challenging.
“It was really hard to get answers to the questions I had. I wasn’t sure how to navigate Hong Kong and if I had had Hong Kong Moms, it would have been such an easier move for me.
“[Whether I was] trying to find a paediatrician or dermatologist or something for a child’s birthday party and running around to different shops in Kowloon to find it … I was constantly emailing friends to ask for recommendations and help.
“I felt that there should be a more efficient way to share information among people who have done things before or found things or have other recommendations. So, I started off by creating a [Facebook] group and adding 10 friends, so we could post things and ask questions [to see whether] anyone had a recommendation or knew where to find something.
“It became very useful and [her friends] added a couple of people, then I added people, and it just snowballed from there. I hadn’t expected that. When I noticed it had 500 members, I felt quite shocked. Now there are more than 14,000. I am glad it has become such a great resource – I still use it even though I’ve been here for 10 years.
“Life changes and you have different questions and different needs, so I am constantly learning, but sometimes you just don’t know what you don’t know. So, as I’m going through [the posts], I’ll think, ‘Oh that’s a good question; I’ll have to remember that.'”
The success of the group has a downside, though. Arnaudy wrote in a post last year, laying down the rules for using the group: “You wouldn’t believe the messages I have received accusing me of deleting posts, racism and threatening to sue me.”
There’s little doubt that the more scurrilous and titillating posts are the ones that drive traffic. One of the best-read posts is one shared from another website in which a woman describes the unusual post-coital cleansing rituals of her and her husband while another hugely popular one was by a Hong Kong mother inquiring about where to buy sex toys.
CLICK TO ENLARGE – AND SEE SOME OF THE POSTS
“It does amaze me that people are really liberal about sharing such personal information but it’s great that they are and that people are still responsive,” says Arnaudy, who works full time as a consultant for a relocation firm.
She believes that part of the group’s success is down to the nature of the Hong Kong expat household, where – thanks to domestic helpers – mothers have the luxury of being able to read through the posts over a glass of wine when the children have gone to bed. One regular visitor confessed in a message: “Some of the more controversial posts can take nearly 30 minutes to read. It’s my nightly entertainment.”
“At the end of the day,” says Arnaudy, “perhaps, in America, you would be doing the laundry and filling the dishwasher and then crawling into bed. Here, once people get the kids to bed, they can sit down and [log on].”
Anthropologist Joseph Bosco, of Chinese University, says one of the reasons for the popularity of Hong Kong Moms is probably that expats, when they first come to Hong Kong, are socially isolated and find it difficult to meet people who they can turn to for help. However, he argues, it also mirrors broader social trends.
“The nuclear family is not really a very good institution for living,” says Bosco. “Humans did not live in nuclear families in the past. They were usually right next door to grandparents and uncles and aunts. So there was a constant coming and going, and I think this is really an attempt to create this kind of connection.
“Because they are in Hong Kong and they are in different time zones from family and friends, it makes a lot of sense that people would be using these methods to keep in touch and create a community. In Hong Kong, it just so happens that it’s mostly women who tend to be out of the workforce and staying at home with the children and need it more than the husbands, who have their community handed to them through their work.”
Says Arnaudy of her Facebook group, “What I think is so wonderful about it is how generous people are with their opinions and their time … It creates this community of support – you rarely find a post that no one will respond to.”
There are Facebook groups for mothers in other cities, such as Tokyo and London, but, says Arnaudy, “I feel this one in Hong Kong has the most traction. Perhaps it is because living in London is not quite as difficult to navigate [for speakers of English].
“Some posts are funny, some are quite sad and some are emotional. There is a different personality to each of them. There is a huge variety of subjects – just about every topic you can imagine and some you can’t.”
Discussions become especially heated when they revolve around vaccinations, the treatment of helpers and, lately, children relieving themselves in public, a subject that draws rants against, followed by equally passionate defences of, mainlanders. And the group is particularly effective at reuniting people with lost property. A couple travelling through Hong Kong on their way back to Australia after a trip to India were able to track down their camera, with all their holiday pictures. Countless laptops and mobile phones left in the back of taxis have been taken for safe keeping by Hong Kong Moms and returned to their rightful owners after being displayed online.
There is a Facebook group called Dads in Hong Kong but it has a much smaller membership and is decidedly less vocal and lively than its female counterpart. Recent posts have included requests for advice on buying a new BMW, tips on what to get a six-year-old for his birthday and suggestions on where to take a wife for a romantic meal.
“[That] really reflects the fact that, in Hong Kong, the proportion of stay-at-home dads is much lower than in, say, the United States,” says Bosco.
For one Hong Kong Mom, however, that status quo constitutes a victory in the battle of the sexes: “I hear that the posts on Hong Kong Dads are all civilised and polite,” she wrote recently. “They don’t talk about baby constipation or post rash photos. How boring are they?
“Hong Kong Moms are passionate, opinionated, supportive, helpful, loving, full of fire and, yes, occasionally bitchy and childish.
“Don’t ever change.”
Dads in Hong Kong (644 members)
“What about the Dads?” asks the introduction to this Facebook group, citing the popularity of Hong Kong Moms. The community offers fathers the chance to “share thoughts on fatherhood as well as practical advice about being a father in this city”.
Southside Mums (1,240 members)
A group for mothers on the south side of Hong Kong Island that allows members to “connect with other local mums to chat about anything to do with life with little people (and everything else that goes with it!)”.
Sai Kung Mummies (1,849 members)
A group for mothers in the Sai Kung area that promises to share “knowledge/advice/things happening in the area”.
Hong Kong Helpers (5,981 members)
Despite its name, this page isn’t for domestic helpers, but rather for families who employ them. It promises to offer help to “find one, hire one, train one or fire one” and to exchange information about good helpers who are looking for work.
Red Door News Hong Kong