Hong Kong and the Remnants of Colonialism

Does colonialism still exist in Hong Kong? My 2 recent stories/encounters in Hong Kong.

It has been (at least!) 3 years since I stayed in Hong Kong for more than a month. “What’s changed?” I’m often astounded to realise people are now seeking an outsider’s perspective of home from me… But hay ho I’ve been away for long, long enough to allow me to look at Hong Kong a bit different from how I used to. Today I picked up the post-colonial lens, with my 2 recent encounters/observations in Hong Kong, to make the case of how the western colonial spirit in Hong Kong is far from being a thing of the past.

A view from the Peak in Hong Kong.

Story 1: Short Hike to the Peak

You might have been amazed by unrivalled view from the Peak (a.k.a the Victoria Peak), overlooking the metropolis, all kingdoms of the world under your feet. This is often the first image that pops to my mind when I think about home – I blame the tourism adverts and souvenirs! The hike to the peak is a common route enjoyed by all. European invaders of Hong Kong in the 19th century would concur.

During the long colonial period, the Peak was designated to be an exclusively non-Chinese residential area. However, you could almost convince an unaware tourist that the mandate is still in place in Hong Kong in 2023. There is a very high proportion of non-Chinese people in the Peak area compared with any other areas in Hong Kong (perhaps other than Lan Kwai Fong, where the drinking and clubbing happens). Legal restrictions have transfigured as economical barriers: the most affordable accommodation at the Peak costs in the billions. Apart from luxury flats and houses, you could also find a list of international schools that mostly admit non-Chinese expats kids only. It is like living on stratosphere, no need to learn to read, write or speak Chinese; your social circles never crosses path with the “ordinary” Hong Kong people; you belong to a different class.

I realised this is a source of my unease when someone (in Britain) told me that they have visited Hong Kong. Which side of Hong Kong did they see? Was it the city with the highest number of millionaires by proportion; or the city with the highest level economic inequality in the world? As they enjoyed the horse races at the jockey club, would they recognise gambling was the social device the colonial government introduced to maintain their grips on the people? Were they merely walking in the boots of their fathers, savouring the fruits of their colony; or have they stepped out of the White-only zone, and truly explore this beautiful land? I resort to praise the food every time.

Mark Six, a popular lottery in HK
Accessed from Ken Cheung’s blog on Steemit

Story 2: Short Encounter on the Cable Car

It was a clear and a bright December day. No better day for a cable-car-ride at Ocean Park (a theme park in Hong Kong, watch video below for a virtual cable car ride!). As the cable car climbed the hill, we were greeted by a fellow cable-car rider from another cart down the hill. Most of the time, these are handwaves and hellos that adds a pinch of friendliness and sense of community to the fun-packed trip. Coming towards us that day was a family of 3 – a white, 5-year-old-ish boy standing on his seat shouting, and his seemingly oblivious parents. As the 2 cable cars crossed paths, we recognised what the boy was shouting – a bunch of racial slur directed at Chinese/Asian people. My jaws dropped on the spot, for someone to have the audacity to speak ill of Hong Kong people, in Hong Kong! The young boy likely mean no harm, and it is certainly that he was not targeting us. Heck I would even have to applaud his choice of time and place to do this – such that he would hardly be held accountable. At his young age, he had already learned/or have been taught that he is different – different from the “ordinary” Hong Kong people, that he is no member of Hong Kong people, but a successor of the whip, a higher, better class. The boy is not to be blamed, look around: whiteness remains to be the standard for beauty, a synonym for good reputation, the definition for class. Who should be hold accountable for keeping Hong Kong people the remnants of colonialism?

I love to say to people in the UK that Hong Kong is an ethnically homogenous place – the notion of ethnicity and race is just not in people’s minds. But lest we ignore ethnicity as a building block for meaningful conversations across members of the community, and lest we rule out race as a perpetuating cause for social inequality, and racism as a vehicle for colonialism.

See you soon, Hong Kong, with my very best wishes.

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2 barriers to motivation

2 factors that affected my motivation at work: some reflections

Started writing this blog on the 3-month mark of my role. Lack of Motivation has very seldom been a problem for me. Transitioning into my current job, I did struggle with this a bit, especially when I am working from home, with an unstable internet connection and accompanied by a novice flute player downstairs.

I am grateful to be able to be inspired by my mentors and colleagues that has allowed me to reflect on how I work. Here are my 2 barriers to motivation.

1. (In)Ability to Contribute

I’ve received absolutely great support from my supervisors and colleagues. I did not feel like I was dropped into a completely new place with no one to seek help from. People are welcoming, I get to meet new people every now and then. Yet there are still times when I have not felt like a part of the group. The working style in my previous role was quite different from my current one. My previous team is rather spontaneous, we are constantly chasing deadlines, constantly speaking and collaborating with each another. My current role is more structured, things are moving in a slower pace, and it is not very often we get to tackle a problem together. This change of pace and team dynamics mean that sometimes I feel out of place.

In a conversation with my mentor, she noticed that I appear to put a lot of my emphasis on my ability to contribute to the team. Upon further reflection, I think that is very true. I am eager to give, but not just to take. But with my limited expertise and knowledge, I felt like I am in no place to give. And I hope this is not based on mindless patriarchal desire for people to listen to me, but to position myself as a valued member of the group and community, instead of a recipient of charity and welfare. My double-identity as a staff and a student also plays into this. I was heading to a blind alley with this train of thought, and it sometimes then stripped my focus away.

My mentor spotted a gap in my way of thinking. Contribution doesn’t always have to be about knowledge and expertise There are all kinds of contributions. Being kind, active on Teams chats, willingness to listen, responsive to emails, sharing my own perspectives and stories, smile… There are many ways how my presence could help make the team better. That helped me remember that me, as a person, has much more to offer than a domain specific knowledge. I care about equality and inclusion, I care about workers’ rights, I am eager to rise people up. These all shall anchor me as a valued member of the community. Motivation follows.

2. Stress to Represent

We talk about gender/ethnic/any representation a lot in our society. Being the “one” in group appears to be magical – it’s the fundamental step of a building fairer world. That is all good.

But there is a, perhaps, unintended consequence that comes with the above narrative. People from minoritised groups are always under a stress to represent. This stress comes from multiple directions:

a) Am I representing my ethnic group well enough? Will my inadequacy hinder my groups’ already small chances to progress in life? There is this constant worry that it is not enough to be just as good as everyone else. One have to do well in every part of life: always dress smart, be professional, don’t make mistakes and stay on the safe side… And that is not always “me”.

b) Is how I am representing “ME” a product of conformity with social expectations of who I should be? Should a HongKong/Chinese person always be good at Maths, a little bit timid in social interactions, be a diligent worker, bad a driving… It is not about the positive or negative conations of these impressions, but rather questioning, is how I was perceived by others truly comes from me, or is it a implicitly implied characteristics that I should have in order to be socially accepted as a person coming from that particular cultural group.

This thought coincides with point (a), if I am not demonstrating characteristics that would fit a public understanding of how Chinese people should behave – and these characteristics could be positively or negatively judged upon, how would then my fellow people be perceived?

Represent. Represent. It is counter-intuitive to think that the burden of representation is laid onto 1 person- no single person could fully represent any group, which is intrinsically a combination and emergent identity that no single person can fully grasp. We often set our EDI recruitment goal at a merely the representation level reflected by descriptive demographics. Yet 1 is miles away from demonstrating diversity WITHIN any given group.

Being a One/few-in-many does shape my self-perception. The process and reflection I describe in (2b) above is dynamic. It could well be that over time, that I become more and more similar to the media-portraited image of a Chinese person. It might not be a bad thing either. But perhaps I am not yet ready to represent this label. Perhaps I need to know myself more before I could allow others to learn about my group, and the difference between the two. It would be much appreciated if this process of self-discovering is not needlessly pressured to accelerate, that I won’t have to force to choose the group I am not ready to represent.

I am grateful for my current workspace, that I have the luxury to think about and reflect on these things that interfered with my performance. Some of these, like (1) could be resolved, but other (2) would require a change in societal attitudes towards in-group, towards others, and towards ourselves. I hope this would help motivate you a little bit too 🙂

Week 4: Say my Name – Hong Kong Chinese Names in English

Reflect on how Hong Kong Chinese names are misrepresented in the UK

“Chi – Chi – is Chi here?”.. “Here.. (unreluctantly)”

I bet the majority of students from Hong Kong have experienced this – Coming to a foreign country, speaking a foreign language, being called a foreign name that took you days to recognise and internalise. Yup, you are here, away from home.

Stripping away the sentiments, I can’t help but be surprised (perhaps I shouldn’t be!) how most of the times (mainly Hong Kong) Chinese names are wrongly represented in English – given the intertwined (colonial) history between Britain and Hong Kong.

These mistakes in naming replicates themselves in educational settings, universities, administrative data and health records. Practically speaking, these mistakes induce higher error rates in records, and hence lower the probability that these information could be used to advise research or public policy – a form of research inequity that perpetuates health inequity in society. If we truly are marching towards an inclusive, more equal society, I do think the first, and the least thing we need to do is to get the names right. Here’s a quick simplified tutorial.

Chinese Name Short Tutorial

In (modern) Chinese, full name (姓名) comprises of a surname (姓) and a forename (名). There is no equivalent of middle name in Chinese.

Surnames typically consist of 1 character, up to 9 characters (only 1 in the Chinese Surname Dictionary)! The 1996 Chinese Surname Dictionary collated 11,936 Surnames, where over 90% of the Chinese population share 120 common surnames (all of them consist of 1 character), and the top 5 surnames (Wang, Li, Zhang, Liu, Chen) take up 30% of the population. As for forenames, they usually consists of 1 or 2 characters, with no upper limits on the number of characters. During the infamous Salmon Chaos discount event in Taiwan, a person has changed their legal name to 50-character-long(49 character forename)!

From the national names report in China 2020, over 90% of Chinese full names consists of 3 characters, as proportion of 2-character names dropped to around 6%, and 4-or-above-character names has a total of around 3%.

Problems with English Representation of Chinese Names

Cantonese and Mandarin pronounces the same character differently – hence their English translation differs. Take my surname as an example, 林, is pronounced more closely to “Lam” in Cantonese than “Lin” in Mandarin (e.g., The NBA player Jeremy Lin). This variation of translation tells us a bit more about where individuals come from – that’s good, as long as people consistently report and record them.

A big issue lies with the forenames. Forename translations in China and Taiwan uses Mandarin Pinyin, which is (sort of) an established method to pronounce Mandarin characters. This is not without it’s limitations, for example, some characters like 呂 (Lǚ) could not be represented using English alphabets. There is no accurate alphabetical representation of Cantonese, mostly due to it’s complexity of having 9 tones and 6 modes/pitches, and that a lot of the words do not share a similar pronunciation mechanism with English. The resemblance between Cantonese-English is much lower than that of Mandarin-English.

Another key difference is that, Mandarin-translated English forenames are usually presented as the same word. For example, 鄧小平 is represented as Deng (Surname) Xiaoping (Forename). Cantonese-translated English on the other hand retains the independence of the forename characters. For example, 鄭月娥 is represented as Cheng (Surname) Yuet-ngor (Forename), where the hyphen is sometimes omitted as space. In the current naming registry in the UK, a lot of the times Cantonese-translated English forenames are truncated and treated as a combination of forenames and middle-names. For example, Yuet-Ngor are truncated as “Yuet”, and “Ngor” recognised as their non-existent middle-name.

How is this still happening in the UK today? Have they not consulted any Hong Kong Chinese? This leads to a key barrier to EDI- power dynamics in Public Patient Involvement. There probably are formal or informal checks with Chinese-speaking people to see whether the existing way of representing names are appropriate, however, these issues might not have been dealt with. We have to be mindful of the power dynamics in which these conversation have happened, in the past and in present. A partial sacrifice of the name and humiliation to the ruling, (White) decision-makers to “earn” a moment of shared laughter might seem to be ridiculous, but it makes a lot of sense amongst the exiled, minoritized communities. Heck, lands were occupied and unequal treaties were signed for the same reasons.

This is not a phenomenon unique to Hong Kong Chinese. It is quite common that people change their naming traditions, willingly or non-willingly, when they enter the country, for example, Vietnamese flip their forename and surnames etc. Speaking from experience, I know there are many occasions that my friends tried to correct their tutors on how their names should be called at Universities. Unless they switch to a “proper” western name, some tutors would insist to use the “name that is recorded on the papers”. The less brave would persevere, like many of our predecessors, to be referred to as a foreign name, even foreign to ourselves.

Glad to see the movement on using the preferred pronouns in communications – I hate to say this but it’s always easier to promote when White people is a beneficiary of any social movement. So my plea is, perhaps it’s also time to pay the long due respect to the un-named, attention to the unseen, and voices to the unheard.

Reflecting on Ethnicity in Research – Challenging The Default

Reflecting on how Ethnicity is researched in academia, challenging “defaults practices”

Listen to the blog here

From the latest release of admin-based ethnicity statistics (ONS), it was shown that, across several administrative data source, there are a significant proportion of people having reported to belong to more than 1 ethnic group.

Similar evidence of changing ethnic identification was demonstrated in Understanding Society @usociety youth survey in young people aged between 10-15.

Ethnicity is a dynamic historic-cultural construct, and for most people from ethnic minorities groups, it changes overtime. In research/policy-based evidence making, ethnic groups are often lumped together (#BAME…), assumed to be constant, and you can only pick 1. It bears the question, how come the default practice in research is to treat ethnicity as time-invariant?

You might notice that – Changing ethnic identity is very uncommon among people reported to belong to White British groups.

And rightfully so! At the time when the population is predominantly white British (or that people from other groups are mostly slaves or seen as objects), research is predominantly initiated by white British, it is reasonable that ways of research are agreed for and within white British.

I am not saying it is a bad thing to have a consistent ethnic identification! But this lived-experience of an invariable ethnicity by white British groups has dominated the knowledge generation process and structure. And this assumption, rightfully based on white British experience was then assumed to be an universal experience.

It became The Default.

I did not recognise the issues with The Default.

I thought it was a consensus, as it was widely replicated and taught to next generations of researchers. I still do the same in my own research: treating ethnicity as lump sum categories, do not change over time.

And perhaps this IS the manifestation of systemic #oppression/#racism. Paraphrasing Dr. Celestin Okoroji: @CellyRanks shared at @kcsamh #PartneringforChange event yesterday (21/6), we need to recognise the hegemonic knowledge and evidence generation mechanisms in this society, and challenge them. (See my thread to capture part of the talk here)

It became The Default.
(Photo by Pedro Figueras on Pexels.com)

The next question is: “how” – what can we do, if we think we should challenge the default – or at least suggest an alternative of how “reality” is conceived.
I have 2 thoughts – (please share yours with me too!)
1) Community-Centric Research
2) Improving Methods

(1) Community-Centric Research means to put local communities – people – at the heart of research. It is about valuing relationship building, and demonstrate impact valued by local people. It is one form of Public Patient* Involvement I suppose, but more. This should be embedded in how funding is planned and commissioned.

(2) Improving Methods
This is one goal of my PhD project (with @Klharron & @rob_aldridge), to improve research equity, to face the biases in “default practices”, more specifically in the practice of data linkage, interpretation and public health policy decision making.

This is new to me – and I am empowered to see so many pioneers on this path. Change can only come from a collective effort. Do share your thoughts and idea with me here or via email!

希望是本無所謂有,無所謂無的。 這正如地上的路;其實地上本沒有路,走的人多了,也便成了路。

魯迅先生 – 故鄉

There is no such thing as Hope, it’s just like the path. There was no path. The path is manifested when thousands of people walk through.

Mr Lu Xun – Hometown
Photo by Julia Volk on Pexels.com

(end)

Originally tweeted by Joseph Lam (@Jo_Lam_) on 22nd June 2022 as a Twitter Thread. Minor edits and expanded on points without character limits.

From Binary to Spectrum: A Thought Experiment

Saw this Tweet on Jul 31, 2020 by Twitter User: @ravenscimaven

I really don’t like being labeled “BIPOC*” y’all. I don’t know what it is, but I’ve had more people these past few months refer to me with an acronym than ever in my life and it doesn’t sit right with me. I wonder, how do LGBT+ folks feel about being identified with an acronym?

@ravenscimaven on Twitter

*Black, Indigenous and People of Colour

I’ve first encountered the term BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic) when I first arrived in the UK. I never liked the term, as it was used and discussed as if the experience of ethnic minorities in the UK are similar/comparable. I appreciate the motivation to raise awareness and fight for the rights of the minorities. Yet I can’t help to feel elements of tokenistic labels in the imprecise languages around the topic. Why create this label BAME, when you can just describe – for example, Black Caucasian – and acknowledge the differences between this group and, say Black Caribbean?

The question then shifted from category of ethnicity to sexual orientation – whether the label of LGBT+ is identified by people of these orientations. In the current age, this comparison is appropriate in sense that, a person can identify their belongingness to their identities, based on their intuition, affection and resolution. Yet I think there is a slight difference between the two, as the latter is described as a spectrum is a varying index on a 2D scalar field; while the former is conceived as categories.

I think my question is, what qualifies the latter to be a spectrum, instead of groups in a wide array of categories? What are the 2 ends of the scale? Is a spectrum specifically used to encourage us to reject binary categories? Bunch of categories sprung up in my mind, I’d invite readers to help with this thought experiment and classify, which would be spectrums vs categories.

Ethnicity – Nationality – Mental Health – Political Philosophy

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

A Corresponding Tweet from Twitter User: @thecrobe caught my attention.

I do not mind being grouped into the queer community (usually). What I DO dislike is when it is used for performative action by someone doesn’t understand the nuances in the community (and does not educate themselves).

@thecrobe on Twitter

From this user’s experience, I am tempted to think: Rejecting existing binary categories doesn’t matter – discovering the new identity matters. Whether such category (within a spectrum) exist in the past doesn’t matter, but whether there is scope in the present to allow the development of character to this label matters. It is not the half-hearted belongingness to these labels that elicited negative feelings amongst the labelled, but the movements that attempted to create history, culture and character around that single ambiguous label/category – that failed to echo with these groups.

If this is the case, the central aim of the advocates – for whichever group – should shift away from proving that some people are different, and stop putting people into more complicated categories. We already know that. But to help create an enabling environments, such that these individuals can explore their individual identities to the fullest.

Voices from people with lived experience MUST stay at the centre of all advocative movements, research and policy-making. For the sake of the individuals, the community and humanity.