The healing power of cricket and religion is perfect mix for one of the many residents in Hong Kong who are not always made to feel welcome
With racism still prevalent, some of the city’s ethnic minorities are turning to sport to help spread a message of tolerance
Aziz Numan stands at the crease, bat in hand, waiting for the ball to arrive. In that moment there is nothing in his world but this: him at one end of the wicket, the bowler running in at the other, and the desire to score runs to help his team.
Thoughts of life are pushed to the side on that sunny Saturday in Yuen Long, and for a brief moment the sound of bat on ball, a quick run, and the need to concentrate on what is immediately in front of him are all that command his attention.
Unfortunately, the distraction is over all too quickly; six balls later the bowler has his revenge, removing one of Numan’s stumps and bringing his team’s innings to an end. Next it will be the turn of Numan’s team to have a bowl, and he cannot wait to get back out there.
For the Pakistani lawyer, moments such as this make life in Hong Kong bearable, against a backdrop of discrimination in a city struggling to shed its reputation for racial inequality.
“Cricket is in my blood, it’s in my family’s DNA,” Numan says. “My grandfather and dad both played the sport back in Pakistan.”
Even after leaving behind his life in his home country 10 years ago, their teachings stayed close to the 35-year-old’s heart.
“It doesn’t matter what happens on the ground, you shake hands and that is the end of it. It’s the progress, and being true to yourself that is most important, no point in cheating, just as it is in life.”
Numan, a Muslim who moved to Hong Kong four years ago from London, says through the hardships of trying to fit in, his religion, and cricket, have offered him comfort and a different take on life.
“I don’t get offended when I encounter discrimination, especially when they [people on the street] stare, or when they start to mumble under their breaths,” he says. “I usually just smile back, because, why bother getting to their level? They just don’t know any better.
“I lived in London for about six years, but decided to settle in Hong Kong because the city offered more job prospects compared with the UK.
“However, taxi drivers or bus drivers here sometimes refuse to let us board, even if they see us waving and they know that we want to hire them, they won’t stop for us.”
While the legal industry respects his expertise, Numan, who works at Lai and Chaudhry Solicitors LLP as the firm’s registered foreign lawyer, sometimes feels targeted by the rest of the region. He recalls a time when a bypasser judged him by his skin colour, telling him not to bring his country’s culture into the city.
“That is life, it happens,” he says. “There are all kinds of people, maybe he was just having an off day.”
Numan is one of the 263,593 non-Chinese living in Hong Kong, a number that excludes those working as domestic helpers. Ethnic minorities make up 3.6 per cent of the city’s population, according to 2016 government data.
Despite the prejudice, Numan is comforted by cricket.
“The game has brought me patience, and taught me that there’s no shame at all in losing,” he says.
And that is the beauty of the two-day tournament he is playing in on that sunny Saturday, organised by the Muslim Council of Hong Kong to bring ethnic minorities together for a good cause.
The proceeds from the matches will help raise funds for, and awareness of, those suffering worldwide.
“We want to bring people together for the right reasons, while reaching out to our own people to teach them about the real teachings of Islam, because even our own community is lacking that,” says Adeel Malik, the founder of the council.
“As well as education, when people get heated up we remind them this is not the Muslim way. We want to watch our tongues and be mindful of the things that we say.”
Although it’s an event put together by the Muslim Council, Malik stresses it’s anything but a religious event.
“Learn to forgive, be compassionate; these are the kinds of things that we are trying to instil in them subtly,” he says. “It’s not a way to sway them, but at the same time, we want to give these soft reminders this is what our teachings are.”
On this Saturday, 12 teams played in front of a handful of spectators due to a sudden change of venue, which led to the games being held at the San Tin Soccer Pitch in Yuen Long, at least a 10-minute drive from Yuen Long MTR Station.
“It was originally going to be held at Lai Chi Kok Park in Mei Foo, but we were told cricket isn’t allowed at the pitch,” Malik says.
And so, the players coped by playing with a tape-ball, which is a tennis ball wrapped in electrical tape.
“It’s fine because this will give the ball a heavier weight, and allows it to go further at a much faster speed than the conventional ball,” Malik says.
Through this, Malik wants to group to learn that when plans don’t go accordingly, it’s best to look at the positive side.
The International Social Service, Hong Kong Branch
The organisation provides services to the city’s migrants, ethnic minorities, including those from Philippines, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, India, Thailand and Sri Lanka by reaching out to them to help with access to various services from government and non-government organisations.
Its services include home visits, seminars and exhibitions, referrals and volunteer ambassador programmes.
The group provides practical help to empower them to become engaged and productive members of society.
Hong Kong Unison
The NGO, founded in 2001, advocates policy reforms for ethnic minority residents. It has been urging the government to introduce better Chinese-language education policies for ethnic minorities, to expand students’ post-secondary options in education and fighting for equal access to public services. Its work includes promoting racial harmony in schools, giving talks on cultural sensitivity, organising career guidance programmes and offering scholarships for students who wish to further their studies.
Hong Kong Christian Service, Centre for Harmony and Enhancement of Ethnic Minority Residents
The centre strives to serve ethnic minorities in order for them to better integrate into the community, and also promote cross-cultural understanding and respect to achieve social cohesion.
It assists them with daily life information and skills, providing interpretation and translation services to them in English and seven other languages, offering life-planning services to young people and also providing Chinese lessons to non-Chinese children.