Thursday, December 11, 2008

A weighty affair

image of a Chinese bike, close focus on the major chain wheel, with a small weight affixed to the shaft by a wire.Dear Gentle Reader,

On July 1, 1997, governance of Hong Kong was handed over from the United Kingdom of Great Britain to the People's Republic of China. 

Part of the terms of the Handover Agreement specified that for fifty years following the handover of Hong Kong, the underlying legal system based on British common law and equity principles, apart from the creation and adoption of Hong Kong's new Basic Law, would remain fixed.

In popular terms, or in propaganda, this is described as two systems, one country.

Residents of Hong Kong enjoy many rights and responsibilities that are different from those rights granted to, and those obligations required from, residents of "Mailand China", the People's Republic of China.

What happens after fifty years and one day? All bets are off...

So what does two systems, one country, look like on the ground?

On Monday, we looked into a Hong Kong/Kowloon market

Yesterday, we made a meal from a Hong Kong/Kowloon market.

In the Hong Kong/Kowloon markets there is a tripartite system enshrined in law, but in practice only one system is used.

What is your scribe talking about?

This weights and measures ordinance has been in force in Hong Kong since June 30, 1997, and it deals with the definitions of units of measurements.

Parts one through four of the ordinance, dealing with length, area, volume, and capacity, give equal legal treatment to two systems of measurement, the British Imperial system and the Metric system.

Part five of the ordinance, dealing with measurement of mass or weight, is different.

Part five, dealing with mass or weight, provides legal standing for three systems of measuring weight.

Those three systems are British Imperial, Metric, and Chinese systems.

All three systems have the force of law.

Guess which one you have to know when shopping in the markets?

For those few people who do not know the Hong Kong Chinese system of measurement of mass or weight, it follows:

1 picul (tam) = 100 catties
1 catty (kan) = 0.60478982 kilograms
1 tael (leung) = 1/16 catty
1 mace (tsin) = 1/160 catty
1 candareen (fan) = 1/1600 catty
1 tael troy = 47.429 grams
1 mace troy = 1/10 tael troy
1 candareen troy =  1/10 mace troy

Simple, right?

For my Southern and British cousins, 1 pound is defined as = 0.45359237 kilogram exactly.

If you are not super fast with the math, let me help you.

1 catty = 1.3333333 pounds...

...Isn't that helpful.

Don't worry about bringing a calculator to the market; all the vendors have them.

Not only is the calculator useful to deal with weights and prices, calculators also transcend language when haggling like a bumpkin or negotiating like a sophisticate.

Chris, Regina, and Pommes running out of toes


Junosmom said...

Oh, for goodness sakes! I wouldn't be able to buy anything in the confusion. I think I'd just scoop it up and take their word for it.

Travis Erwin said...

And I thought my world got complicated at times.

Cloudia said...

Chris, I love your posts, as well as your comments on my blog. i do think of you as a friend.
I am a sinophile from WAY back. Thanks for these vicarious visits.
Did you see the article in Sundays NY Times about the "Jitong" in Taiwan? International / Dec 7 / pg 11 / "Shaman Channels 12th Century but Adapts to 21st"
Love to read YOUR take on it!
Aloha, pal-

Sepiru Chris said...


I think you may need assistance in the bargaining department... (notes down 'easy mark' in the book). Should you come to Hong Kong for a visit or a piano recital, be sure to call before you venture into the markets. :)


Throw Gatling gun style Chinese into the mix and things get even better. And don't forget, for very high value items, to surreptitiously check the scales. Do it obviously, and the deal is off. Don't do it all, and pay too much.

That all said, I bet the postal service at Christmas get pretty hairy too...


Thanks bella. But, inquiring minds want to know, how a twenty year old can be a sinophile from WAY back...

Thanks for the link to the article on jitongmen (men pluralizes it) in Taiwan. (I was still exploring Cambodia when this came out; all my entries until today were written before I left and posted automatically...)

I remember this practice a lot from a decade (more actually) ago when I lived in Taiwan.

I also watched the practice decline over a few years, but the charismatics, at the time, made up for the loss of numbers by cleverly using the media and new media.

I have seen no drop in the use of the divination blocks in temples.

People want to believe, and people are taught to be skeptical, maybe too skeptical.

Thanks again for forwarding the post.