As a third-generation Nepali in Hong Kong. (The first generation of my family to move to Hong Kong was my grandfather, a British Gurkha stationed there), I was never really able to fit in with both my Nepali and Hongkonger identities.
I do speak Nepali at home. But since I never learnt my native tongue, I don’t understand the more complicated words.
And all my life, I have been studying in EMI(English as the medium of instruction) schools. So I would say English is my first language as I am most comfortable with it.
Because of this, I have never learnt Chinese(Cantonese) very well. Most of my Cantonese knowledge comes from:
- Watching local TV channels when smartphones did not exist.
- Playing in the playground when I was younger.
- Being forced to speak it in a working atmosphere where I had to work with people who did not understand English.
I am also forced to speak Cantonese when I go out because I have East Asian features. Therefore, HK locals talk to me in Cantonese instead of English since they think I am a local. I am grateful for this as this pushes me outside my comfort zone to speak more Cantonese.
Even then, I feel like I do not fit in both cultures properly. Not being Chinese, it is difficult to relate with the locals when it comes to traditions. The locals and minorities grow up in different backgrounds from culture, to schooling, to media exposure. When there are public holidays, we spend them differently. It means more to the locals because it relates to their culture. For us minorities, it is just an extra holiday. We are also exposed to stuff from our own countries in the forms of movies, TV, songs, religions. Although we may get along well, there is still something that differentiates us.
This is also true for my Nepali side. I am not familiar with the language. It is enough to get by in Nepal. But I do not understand anything when watching a news report there with the advanced use of language. I still remember needing to sign my name in Nepali when I went there for some official work where they were sardonic when I did not know how to write it. “How can you call yourself Nepali when you can’t even write your own name?” Those were the words the officer said to me. I realized then that most people live in a bubble where they are ignorant of people outside it. It was also a great way to make me question my identity.
I don’t feel “local” anywhere. In Hong Kong, you are “local” if you are Chinese and your family has been in Hong Kong for generations. I was also asked by my local friends when I was “going back” to visit Nepal. I understand that they did not mean any ill will. Since I am not Chinese, they must have thought I am not originally from here. But Hong Kong is my home. If you sent me to Nepal right now, I would be lost. I would be like a tourist there.
Back in 2019, when the HK protests were still going on, one of my friends at work told me that the locals were protesting because they had no other place to go. Most of them simply couldn’t. He told me that if HK became an undesirable place to live, I could go to Nepal and even other countries because I understood English. But the locals were indeed living in a bubble that was entirely their own. Being a Special Administrative Region that had an autonomy of itself. As well as being apart from the mainland for a century and a half. Obviously, this caused the people in Hong Kong to have their own identities.
I believe there are a lot of people like me who are in-between. Not only in Hong Kong but everywhere in the world. We manage to find our own smaller group of people with who we can relate. And even introduce the “locals” into our lives. Because although this is an identity crisis, not everyone may encounter it. The present is what binds us all together. Spending time together, getting to know one another. There is a beauty in learning more about each other that I have experienced both in Nepal and Hong Kong. Even though cultures and traditions may be different. In the end, we are all the same. We are human. So we should find comfort in our differences because that is what makes us unique. Our shared experiences allow us to connect with different parts of ourselves.
This blog was inspired by personal experience and talking with friends who relate. As well as the 2017 Wong Fu Productions short film: “In Between”.