I went to the supermarket this morning and found myself acting unconsciously like a local. I shoved my cart threateningly near a middle-age woman’s cart. I muscled my way to the tomatoes and stayed put until I chose the best ones. I cut off a family of four. I blocked an aisle, gave this one bitch the evil eye and finally raced to the shortest checkout line where I waited reluctantly behind two fellow shoppers, happily recalling that I remembered to bring my Great Food Hall canvas shopping bag. I was efficient, impatient and green!

And while I wouldn’t resort to local shopping customs at expat friendly Great Food Hall, I’d gladly go into middle-age woman mode at Taste–the Regular Joe’s grocery store. And God help anyone if they see me coming at Wellcome Supermarket, the working-class supermarket. There, anything goes. There, cutting in line is customary, sharp elbows are necessary and a competitive spirit isn’t just good to have, it’ll keep you alive.

On my walk home, I remembered how different grocery shopping was in Tokyo. That overly polite, passive-aggressive, maddening game of oneupmanship was at once orderly and frightening. How else to describe the unwritten codes of conduct, the stares of disapproval, the “I”m cutting in line but let’s pretend I’m not so as not to disrupt the harmony” bullshit that so many obasans (middle-age women) employed while shopping in Japan. It was a game you were dared to play. A game you could never win.

I’m no fool. I was worse than just a gaijin (foreigner), I was a brown gaijin. And I’m gay. I was living there illegally for the last two years and I didn’t have the right form of identification (gaijin card). One false (bold) move at the supermarket, and I’d be on a plane back to New York in the fucking cargo hold!

For all the order that was life in Japan. For all the rules and regulations, the spoken and the understood, the glances, the gestures, the implied and suggested, all of it. I’d much rather have the life I have here in Hong Kong than that existence I had in Tokyo. I just have to remind myself not to be an asshole.

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