• Sun
  • Dec 21, 2014
  • Updated: 5:00am
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 May, 2013, 10:35am

Abrasive, loveable Hong Kong

Kelly Yang says while life here can be difficult, not least for someone born on the mainland trying to fit in, the city is also loveable in its own way


Kelly Yang is the founder of The Kelly Yang Project, an after-school writing program for children in Hong Kong. At KYP, she teaches creative writing, public speaking and critical reasoning. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and Harvard Law School. Follow Kelly on Twitter: @kellyyanghk

I'd like to applaud Joy Yang for her courage in penning her recent op-ed on the discrimination she has experienced in Hong Kong. I, too, was born on the mainland and there have been times when I've got the evil eye for speaking my Beijing-accented native Putonghua here. At such times, I experienced the pain of feeling like I did not belong. But I can count on two hands the number of times that happened. Meanwhile, my positive experiences with Hongkongers have ballooned and I've come to have a deep respect for our city.

When I arrived in Hong Kong seven years ago, I did not expect to love it, especially the lack of space. Yet it has a way of pleasantly surprising you; and that has a lot to do with the people who make up this city.

Hong Kong people are unique. They can't be lumped together with the rest of the Chinese people. In order to integrate, you have to respect that. You have to take it upon yourself to really understand the locals. I don't claim to understand completely, but there are a few things I've come to understand.

First, yes, it's all about the money. That's obvious the minute you step off the plane. But this commerce mentality isn't necessarily bad. It's one reason why Hongkongers fundamentally like new products, ideas and people. They are open-minded and far more accepting of change than so many other populations.

Second, Hong Kong people always leave money on the table. I've been doing business here for years and I see it all the time, from the guy at the dai pai dong to the swanky real estate agent handling million-dollar deals. Hong Kong people leave money on the table because they believe in the next time. This mentality is not just great for business, it's also great for life.

Yang says life in Hong Kong as a mainlander is not a piece of cake. Part of the problem, though, is the fact that life in Hong Kong isn't a piece of cake for anyone - it's a sink-or-swim kind of place; you stay and toil hard or you pack up and go home.

While Hongkongers should absolutely be more respectful towards their mainland counterparts, the treatment of mainlanders here is also a far cry from outright bigotry. Ask any Filipino who lives here and they'll tell you about outright bigotry. Better yet, ask an African-American living in the US.

I'll never forget what my law school professor, Charles Ogletree, once told me. He is one of Harvard's leading law professors - and a close friend of US President Barack Obama - yet he said that when he walks around the Harvard campus late at night, he always wears his university ID over his jacket because "I don't want to get stopped by the campus police". He says the first thing people still think when they see a black person on the Harvard campus late at night is, what's he going to steal?

The good news is that when a mainlander walks around Central, locals don't see mainland or Cantonese, they just see another Chinese person. And it gives me hope that, in time, with increased understanding and mutual respect, we'll come to realise that we're not all that different.

Kelly Yang is the founder of The Kelly Yang Project, an after-school programme for children in Hong Kong. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard Law School. kelly@kellyyang.com


More on this story

For unlimited access to:

SCMP.com SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive



This article is now closed to comments

Yes. Learn how to speak Cantonese and concentrate on the many positive things of Hong Kong. Hong Kong isn't perfect but no place ever is. Mostly people determine their own fate with their attitudes and ambitions. Losers play the victim card, winners adapt and persevere.
Seemingly every Chinese person who ever went to Harvard/Yale/Stanford never let's an opportunity go by without telling you.
The reference to Harvard and the professor's Obama link are irrelevant to the point of the story.

Grow up - the past (your past) is the past and most people don't care a damn what you did; rather people in Hong Kong care about what you are going to do. Maybe you will be fully integrated when and if you realized that.
hard times !
Maybe this Kelly Yang is just too optimsitic to believe that now when a Mainlander walks around the Central on Hong Kong Island,local Hongkongers don't see Mainland or Cantonese (Hongkong Chinese to be sure since over 2 million Hong Kong Chinese are not Cantonese ), they just see another Chinese person. In time/as time goes by, increased understanding /mutual understanding and mutual trust ? we'll come to realise that we're not all that different.-----it is a daydream only,Ms Kelly Yang since the cultural differences between Mainlanders and Hongkongers/Taiwanese have been so great.
Learn Cantonese, integrate and have your own circle of friends; you will not be looked upon as different as HK is not unlike most big cities indifferent to outsiders.
Black people to law enforcement in the US tends to be lumped together not seeing the individual. Protests against the police in using profiling on certain ethnic groups are frequent. Ethnic Chinese everywhere however experience something more. They are always being co-opted by China in mashing all ethnic Chinese of other nationality as part of Chinese of China. Such urge to co-op other people as its own are a strange behavior. Similar nationality, a white person will get a better treatment with more opportunity over an ethnic Chinese would in China. The irony is that while Chinese aware all the drawbacks of an over populated nation yet they still want more by co-opting every ethnic Chinese here and there. Strange but true? Hong Kong is on its way to be co-opted for the good or bad as it may.
Maybe you should be a little more open minded yourself instead of rejecting everything outside your limited worldview.
sad that Kelly finds a place thats all about money loveable! Or accept bigotry as "normal".
Education status in public may not be as pronounce in US than in Hong Kong, still the web of school links is strong and useful. It is just the reality no matter what you say about relevancy. Your alma mater matters because it adds weight. Harvard/Yale/…… graduates just carry on what they benefit from these institutions. But all said, I would like to know where those business crooks went to school? I think you will be surprised and envy no more.


SCMP.com Account