Class of ’97: From indigenous village to international school, Jordan Lee has a keen sense of Hong Kong’s different worlds
As a child, Jordan Lee played with other children in an indigenous Hakka village in New Territories, spoke more Cantonese than English and was hit by reverse culture shock when he moved to the United Kingdom for university
Meet the class of ’97, born the year of the handover. Their childhoods tell the stories of Hong Kong’s first two decades after the return to China. Some remember Sars, others took part in Occupy. Now, they’re trying to work out what their future holds – and how Hong Kong’s own uncertain future fits into their plans.
His friends call him gwai zai or white boy and locals are shocked when he orders food in fluent Cantonese.
But Jordan Lee sees himself as a Hongkonger, having spent his childhood in an indigenous Hakka village in the New Territories – even though his parents are British expatriates.
His parents, who have Hong Kong ancestors, emigrated to the city in the 1990s, in search of opportunities.
As a child, Lee played with other village children, and spoke more Cantonese than English.
“I basically grew up as a Chinese person,” he says.
His parents, who do not speak fluent Cantonese, became so worried about his English that they sent him to an international school for two years.
It was only then that he became aware of the two different worlds in Hong Kong: the local, Chinese world, and the “exclusive” English-speaking expats.
But when Lee looks at the lifestyle of other expat kids, he’s glad that his parents opted to give him a Chinese upbringing.
”I’m just a local person who is a bit English, I guess,” he said.
“I find it funny when they [his friends] call me [gwai zai], but I don’t think they’re excluding me. I am a very Hong Kong person.”
“A lot of the time [shop keepers] think I’m white, and then I go and speak perfect Cantonese, with colloquial slang and expressions, they’re like ‘wow, your Cantonese is really good’.”
He felt particularly proud of his city during the Occupy protests in 2014 and would help after school and at weekends by passing around supplies.
“[There was] a great sense of togetherness among the people. You could really feel it. And that made me happy and proud to be a Hongkonger,” he says.
“Even though the Hong Kong people basically didn’t achieve anything from it, it just showed the unity, I guess, of the community.
“It showed us that we’re all in this together, and I think that just made everyone feel a lot nicer about each other.”
Lee is now studying biomedical science at Birmingham University in England, and felt reverse culture shock when he arrived two years ago.
He found English people awkward and he was both in touch and dislocated from the culture of those of his own age. In the future, he sees himself back in Hong Kong.
“It’s not going to be bad, but it’s never going to be as good as it used to be,” he says. “I’m lucky, because I have a choice. I can always come here [Britain]. A lot of Hong Kong people, that’s their home, there’s nowhere else to go.”
There’s even a part of him that’s optimistic about Hong Kong’s relationship with China.
“If you have a good relationship with China, and you both have clear guidelines on what to do and what not to do, I think it could really benefit Hong Kong,” he says.
“If it had the support of China, investment, development and all that stuff, it could be an even better city.”