I always considered myself more Chinese in terms of western cultural definitions.
I have a love-hate relationship with Hong Kong.
Having grown up in Canada but visiting HK every few years, I had known even as a kid that I was going to move to Hong Kong. Having failed at begging my parents to send me to international school there during my school years, I took it upon myself to move there literally the day after my university graduation with two suitcases. Back then, the young naive me thought the world would fall into place for me after living there (to a certain extent, it did; I started my career, made some life-long friends, and began my passion in photography and travel). But after 6 years, I left with so much more negativity towards the city. In fact, I had developed a bit of a hatred towards what was once my favorite city in the entire world.
Having grown up in a western country, I always considered myself more Chinese in terms of western cultural definitions. After moving to Hong Kong, however, I realized that I was actually much more westernized than I thought I was (by Chinese cultural definitions). I didn’t speak the language as well as I thought I did; HK slangs and local jokes eluded me completely. My sarcastic humor also completely fell on local deaf ears (apparently, sarcasm is a western thing). Over the years and especially since moving out of HK then back to western countries, I’ve learned to accept that I am pretty much half-half when it comes to a mix between Asian and Western, and tend to “shut down” one side depending on where I’m living or traveling to at the moment.
As much as I hate to admit it sometimes though, those years in HK shaped who I am greatly and every time I go back, it is home.
During the past holidays, I was able to go “home” again after a three-year hiatus. Living in L.A. with zero Cantonese-speaking friends, I was looking forward to going “home” again and unleashing my Chinese side that had been “shut down” for a while.
For my closest friends in Hong Kong who have all either grown up or studied/worked abroad at some points in their lives, I can truly be myself with them without toning down my Chinese or American side.
“Let’s grab a drink,” one of my friends had suggested during our meet-up during my holidays.
“Sure, but let me get some tortoise herbal jelly first? They don’t exist in L.A. so I’m trying to eat as much as possible before I go back,” I explained to him.
“Oh yeah sure, there’s one right around the corner,” was my friend’s response, without batting an eye.
While I love my friends in L.A. and am happy with all the food and activities we eat and do together, I’m sure the above conversation would not have gone down so easily with them.
However, there are also conversations with friends that I can imagine would go much better with my friends in L.A.
Meeting up with my friends in HK, where being direct is a main part of the “go-go-go” culture, the first things they say to me is,
“Why is your skin so dark now? You weren’t white to begin with but now you’re dark.” They tell me explicitly, in a disapproving tone.
“How come you have so many wrinkles? You’re not that old.”
(Thanks guys, I MISSED YOU TOO!)
Walking into a store, I cheekily ask the store owner for a discount and she rolls her eyes at me, exasperated, indicating that I was taking up too much of her time and says in an irritated tone, “Fine, whatever, I’ll give you a 10% discount.” I thank her and as I am about to leave the store after my purchase, she whispers to me, “Have you tried this Chinese soup recipe? It gives you better skin.”
(I’m not sure whether to be annoyed or grateful at her honesty).
It was only after leaving HK that I learned how to process my local friends’ and store owner’s true intentions behind their harsh words of their concern and care for me. HK people have a weird way of showing concern by western standards, and I have to remind myself of this consistently. The culture is not known to be one of pleasantries, and it was only after I moved away that I learned the art of appreciation and gratitude.
I do miss the safe, convenient lifestyle of HK (where else in the world can I walk around during midnight by myself feeling completely safe?). The vibrant city where you can never get bored (there is always someone up for doing something). While HK will always hold a special place in my heart as one of my “homes,” I have learned that sometimes you really do need to leave a place to appreciate it, and I appreciate HK so much more in small doses.