I have been finding it difficult to explain, to those who haven’t been, the difference between mainland China and Hong Kong.
Until I came here, almost everyone I know understands that there is a difference. However, to lots of people here, Hong Kong and China are one and the same.
Recently, in reference to my poor bike riding skills, someone asked me:
But don’t you have, like, a billion bicycles in China?
Yes….but I’m from Hong Kong…
But isn’t Hong Kong part of China?
This is usually when I pause and struggle for something brief, concise and easily understandable. But that is also when conversation moves on and people probably just think that I don’t make sense.
Since I’ve come to London, I realise that my face no longer represents just Hong Kong, but China as a whole.
People ask me questions about China. They ask if it is true that we don’t have access to Facebook. Commentors on the Times website thinks that the HK government will provide “swift justice” a la China, aka the death penalty, to a man who hurled acid on to crowded shopping streets. They ask what people think in China. They ask if we have this and that in China.
Hong Kong doesn’t have the death penalty. There is no internet censorship whatsoever. No, I don’t know if people in China can use Facebook.
Sad to say, but a lot of what I know about China, I know from an Englishman, or experienced with the Englishman. I never ventured more than three hours beyond the HK border into China until I needed to see the Englishman.
Another common exchange here goes like this:
So where are you from?
Oh, you mean China?
I want to say, yes, it’s a part of China, but you can’t imagine HK as like the rest of the country. It’s very different.
But then people get bored.
So now, I’m trying to come up with a prescribed answer for when someone asks anything similar again.
Hong Kong: Imagine a giant Canary Wharf, spread over the entire area of Greater London, just much taller and a lot denser and hillier, with the same British roads, traffic lights and signage. Same double-decker buses, but a much better Underground. Replace black cabs with red Toyotas as taxis. All the food here is available, just add a lot more Chinese restaurants and greasy-spoons, less curry houses, and then replace white people with the Chinese, then dot a few housing estates here and there. Voila. An overly simplistic How To Turn London into Hong Kong.
Because of my looks, people automatically group me together with 1.3 billion other people and assume me to know stuff ranging from Chinese consumer culture and education to language and government.
Having spent most of the last decade there, I admit I am not proud of my ignorance and disconnect, esp. now that HK depends more and more on mainland China, economically and politically.
Prior to coming here, few people expected that of me.
However, that is not the case now, and I struggle to explain the difference. The most concise I’ve come up with is: Well, remember that Hong Kong was ruled by the British. But people usually don’t remember, or think that fact is irrelevant to how differently Hong Kong has developed from the rest of the country.
If you haven’t been to either mainland China or Hong Kong, Nasty thinks the difference is most obvious and significant if you travel to the mainland first, and then go to Hong Kong. He thought it was a bit like being in the UK, only with more Chinese people. Suddenly everyone speaks English, he could get around easily, he could get proper western food, and in his words, compared to the mainland, it’s like someone’s lifted a fog and everything is clear and easy again.
Sometimes, I wonder why I get annoyed that people don’t understand. Like a Scot I know who hates it when people ask if she’s English, everyone is entitled to a sense of pride of where they’re from. It’s a case of having people constantly misunderstand a very fundamental part of your identify.
All I’m saying is, I’m just annoyed, and I wish people would understand. If you have a better idea of what I should say, do let me know.