Ranked second place on the Swissed-based International Institute of Management Department (IMD) World Competitiveness Ranking 2019, Hong Kong overtook America for the top spots this year. Till 2019, this is the 25th year for Hong Kong to be entitled as the freest economy successively by Heritage Foundation, an American think tank.

(Swissed-based International Institute of Management Department (IMD) World Competitiveness Ranking 2018 VS 2019)

Acknowledged as Asian Financial Hub, Hong Kong takes advantage of its geographical location, simple taxation structure, multicultural environment to host innumerable local and international pivotal companies. People flush into this oriental city for its mixed culture and myriad job opportunities.

However, a society with a diverse population composition does not guarantee a culturally integrated society. The institute of urban strategies under the Mori Memorial Foundation in Japan assessed cities in the world from 6 aspects: Economy, Research and Development, Cultural Interaction, Livability, Environment, Accessibility. Hong Kong demonstrates a competitive economy status, ranked No.9 in the Global Power City Index 2019, while also reveals its weakness in cultural interaction and livability, two aspects taking interaction with foreigners and social equality as attributes.

(Bar chart showing the index given by the Japan think tank. Hong Kong presents discrepancy in cultural interaction.)

Ethnic Minorities (EM), is employed in Hong Kong to describe the non-Chinese people. According to the 2016 Hong Kong Census, 8.0% of the population were non-Chinese, among which 57.7% was taken up by Filipino and Indonesian people, followed by South Asian, Mixed and White. Interestingly, the Equal Opportunities Commission, which promotes equal opportunities for people with different gender, race and physical condition, separated Caucasian from Ethnic Minorities in a report published in 2016.

According to Hong Kong law and regulations, any person may acquire the legal status of permanent resident after residing in Hong Kong for 7 years, while Section 2(4) of the Immigration Ordinance excludes domestic helpers and certain other occupational categories, including refugees. Excluding domestic helpers from the population, 63.2 percent of the whole ethnic minority population are permanent residents residing in Hong Kong for over 7 years, taking an estimate of 2.6% of the total local population.

Racial hierarchy exists within the ethnic minority community, generally dominated by skin tone discrimination, reported by an ethnic minority research report issued by The Zubin Mahtani Gidumal Foundation (short as Zubin Foundation), a Hong Kong social study think tank.

Based on their finding, darker skin color basically means larger chance of facing bias and less possibility of integrating to this society, elaborated by Puja Kapai, Director of Hong Kong University’s Centre for Comparative and Public Law, who dedicated to improve the social status of EM community and contributed to the research report of Zubin Foundation.

(This pyramid illustrates Hong Kong racial hierarchy and Arabian unexpectedly ranked bottom under the skin color hierarchy theory. Ms Kapai pointed out the term ‘Arabian’ is full of prejudice already.)

Indians make up the largest proportion amidst the South Asian, an estimated 6.2% of all ethnic minorities in HK. Their contribution has been underestimated. Tracing back to 1841, 2700 Indian soldiers were brought to Hong Kong by the British after Hong Kong island surrendered to British government in perpetuity. And in 1867, 100 Sikh policemen arrived in Hong Kong since they were recognized for their commitment to protective police work back in British India. Later in 1950s, nearly 200 Pakistanis came to Hong Kong for police service.

(Indian/Parkis history in Hong Kong)

Harpinder, a 21-year-old psychology major undergraduate student at Lingnan University, is a 4th generation Hong Kong-born Indian. Her great-grandfather used to be a police officer defending the Hong Kong against Japan during World War 2. After that, the whole family immigrated to Hong for a brighter and more promising future.

Hong Kong Plus

Harpinder is grateful to grow up in this well-developed international city with better education and exposure to diverse culture in the world. Comparing to India, where she had her primary school for two years, Hong Kong is qualified to be an international city allowing her to be herself. Last year she joined the Metropolitan Attachment Program and went to Sydney for summer internship with other 40 local Chinese students and one Hong Kong-born Pakistanis, Mariam Hayit, whose grandfather came to Hong Kong as policeman in 1952.

Working in Sydney, surrounded by English environment is easier and more comfortable for them since getting a satisfying job as an ethnic minority in Hong Kong is rather difficult for them despite the fact that both of the two university students can speak fluent English and Cantonese. Harpinder firmly calls herself a Hong Konger but also admits she would definitely move out of Hong Kong later because they can never have the job privilege as “local”, while actually this 4th generation Hong Kong-born Indian girl should be acknowledged as local, by others and herself.

Harpinder is not the only one struggling in Hong Kong as a local born ethnic minority kid. In 2017, the Zubin Foundation interviewed 253 ethnic minority youths in Hong Kong about their identity problem. Like Harpinder, half recognized themselves as Hong Konger while planning to leave Hong Kong within 10 years in order to live in an English-speaking society for more fair job opportunities.

Talking to Mariam, she felt the term ‘Ethnic Minorities’ contains multiple segments, from local-born non-Chinese to non-local non-Chinese, and also asylum seekers. To these non-Chinese youths born and raised in Hong Kong, the term ‘Ethnic Minority’ denies their identity as a local person to some extent, thus they claimed they would be preferred to be called as ‘Hong Kong Plus’ to indicate their local identity with personal ethnic descent.

Language barrier in education

Compared to 10 years ago, the ethnic minority community in Hong Kong has expanded significantly by 70%. The boost in the EM population has made Hong Kong a more integrated society, but it’s not negligible that racism and discrimination still exist in Hong Kong in different contexts like job opportunities and education. “Hong Kong claims to be multicultural while actually didn’t embrace it at all,” Mariam said. Sometimes companies may turn down their job applications under the pretext of Cantonese proficiency requirement or religious attire.

(The ethnic minority population has increased by nearly 70% from 2006 to 2016.)

Discrimination outside of workspace is also easy to spot and felt, said by Harpinder. It’s common to see some local Chinese, mostly elderly, cover their noses with tissue when they spot her or other brown people taking public transportation. “Stop covering your nose with the tissue. We take shower everyday just the same as local. We don’t smell as you thought.” she once posted on her Instagram story after facing such awkward scene in an elevator.

The discrimination reflects poor cultural integration. “I think the systematic discrimination originated from education. Government needs to fix the system,” Harpinder claimed. Hong Kong government currently implements the Teaching Chinese as a Second Language System (TCSL) to facilitate non-Chinese ethnic minorities with their Cantonese study. With no appropriate textbooks designed for EM students, Harpinder is not satisfied that they often learn Cantonese from a much easier level compared to local Chinese.

She and Mariam emphasized the inherent segregation hidden within the education for multiple times. The road for ethnic minority youths to integrate to the local society becomes harder when not learning Cantonese as first language, said by Mariam.

Currently, ethnic minorities need to take alternative international Chinese qualification exams for college entrance but the equivalence to The Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) Chinese examination is low and hinder them from choosing certain university major with the requirement of minimum level 3 of HKDSE Chinese examination, the entrance examination to undergraduate study for major Hong Kong students.

Mariam studied psychology at university and thought about doing counselling in the future but without a DSE language certificate, General Certificate of Education (GCE) is not capable to prove she proficiency in Cantonese. Pursuing a professional career fitting her major study is challenging and she starts to consider working outside of Hong Kong.

Designated school is another implementation receiving criticism from ethnic minorities, NGO and even United Nations for obstructing integration. Designated schools used to be the place for EM children to attend in which medium of instruction is English rather than Chinese. The schools were considered promoting segregation since no real cultural interaction with local Chinese could possibly be made in these schools.

In 2013, the Hong Kong government decided to stop designated schools and instead started encouraging public schools to accept more ethnic minority students. From 2014, the Hong Kong government started providing extra funding for schools admitting EM students. Schools recruiting more than 10 EM students per year will be subsidized from 800,000HKD to 1,500,000HKD. The policy has received criticism from legislators and educators since the education bureau neither provided guidance and restrictions on the usage of the money nor monitored or assessed the effectiveness of its help in improving EM’s proficiency in Cantonese.

(In 2016/2017, 218 kindergartens, 118 primary schools, 99 secondary schools and 17 special schools have accepted more than 10 EM students respectively.)

Despite the designated schools got disbanded by government in 2013, the tendency of sending ethnic minority kids to particular schools never stop. Considering EM parents of middle-class or below cannot afford the expense of international school, plus the fact that these children were not born to speak Chinese, they rather prefer to attend former designated schools, which becomes parts of EMI(English Medium Instruction) schools now. For instance, Sir Ellis Kadoorie School, founded by the Jewish entrepreneur and philanthropist Sir Ellis Kadoorie, is a popular school for ethnic minority kids.

Being a student from EMI school, Mariam insists they should be given the option to learn Cantonese as first language. “They need language to feel part of the society”, a parent raised her opinion at the townhall meeting with Matthew Cheung Kin-Chung, the chief secretary of administration in 2017.

Thriving in the tough job market

The lack of Cantonese skills also presents barriers for non-Chinese in employment, resulting in increasing poverty within EM family.

In 2016, the unemployment rate of EM is 4.6%, 1.3% higher than average. And the poverty rate among ethnic minorities has reached 19.4%, increasing by 3.6% from 2011, which means almost one in five non-Chinese person are below the poverty line. “Some 34 per cent of youths can’t find work, which is way above the overall unemployment rate of 3.0%. And for women, the situation is even worse”, said by Ms. Kapai, “Lack of employment or employment in low-skilled labour jobs also means that poverty levels are high for ethnic minorities. Around 32% of children from these families are living in poverty. It’s a vicious cycle.”

(Chart shows the comparison between average unemployment rate and it among EM)

The Labour Department kicked off its interactive job seeking online service from 2010, through which job seekers can have a glance of the job market and possibly find a job after successful application. Since March 2015, the new option ‘Ethnic Minorities are welcomed for the post’ in its job vacancy form for employers was introduced in order to help EM job seekers get employed and encourage companies recruit more EM in the workspace.

However, only 485 out of 24772 job vacancies listed on the job portal are EM friendly and 60.6% of them are labor jobs without requirement on academic qualification such as cleaner, security guard, dish washer and courier. A handful of managerial positions are offered with a requirement in bachelor or master degree. The average salary for the jobs listed is 12,288 HKD, nearly 5,000 HKD lower than the average wage for public. And upper bound for such position is around 20,000HKD per month, while the peak for non-EM is approximately 140,000HKD, 7 times as much as the top salary for EM.

(288 out of 485 jobs welcoming ethnic minorities for application are low-skill jobs.)

(The average salary of the vacancies welcoming EM is 12,288HKD. The salary above 20,000HKD mostly come from the calculation author applied during raw data preprocessing as the author turns daily based job or hour based job into monthly based for convenient comparison. )

“Language and career opportunities are the main problems faced by EM youths. We offered skill training classes and dedicated to help them find a job,” said by Sandy Chan Wai Shan, the manager of Zubin Foundation.

(Sandy Chan Wai Shan, the manager of Zubin Foundation.)

Based on her experience, EM youths don’t actively build up their profiles to find decent internship or jobs, and sometimes even not interested in study. Sandy personally knew several youths went to Vocational Training College at first to improve their employability through learning skills, but quit in the second year or half of the first year so they could go to construction site for higher salary.

And as mentioned in the report by Zubin Foundation, EM youths tend to do similar jobs now, mostly either English teacher or waiter (waitress). The monotonous work leads to bias of job market and generates awkwardness when exception happens. Sandy once met a girl majoring in chemistry in university and passionate about being a chemistry teacher. She successfully got admitted after sending application to 100 schools, and out of expectation, several schools replied with asking her willingness of teaching English instead.

But getting admitted did not turn out to be better when she was required to take off her hijab at school. “Such behavior is unreasonable and disrespectful. The ignorance is derived from the unfamiliarity with other culture. Hong Kong people should learn more culture and be cultural sensitive,” Sandy added.

“Acknowledging EM’s existence is not enough, Hong Kong people need to accept them to be your colleagues at workplace, and classmates of your children,” she concluded in this way.

Housing in Hong Kong is another issue Harpinder concerns. “We cannot afford a house in Hong Kong so I don’t see a reason to stuck here”. Knowing American schools will reserve certain quotas for kids of different ethnicity, Harpinder suggests Hong Kong government to apply such policies to public housing application in order to maintain the fairness.

For new incoming EMs, renting a house is challenging as well. The Zubin Foundation provides service of helping EM rent houses and they’ve once called over 10 property agents but the agents all rejected their requests since the landlords prefer not to rent their houses to EM tenants. “They either assumed EM will host disturbing party all night or thought EM have hygiene problems and may not pay the rent on time, which are all wrong assumptions with strong intentional bias,” Sandy added.

Misleading assumptions tears up the gap between local Chinese and ethnic minorities. People being judgmental in a too easy and irresponsible way, sometimes even without knowing EM personally in real life. Browsing through the popular online forums among Hong Kong youths, LIHKG, hate speech spams the posts regarding EM, mostly South Asian. Dirty, violent, gregarious, unemployed, lazy, rapists are the common words used in these posts. Netizens shared the anecdotes they heard from others with no verification but prejudice.

Hong Kong local media HK01 once hosted a program inviting 2 EM young boys reading the hate comments towards EM. The boys looked awkward after hearing the comment but still responded gently and emphasized for multiple times that people should not do generalization based on the bad-behaved individuals. However, the comments of the video are still full of preconceived tease and discrimination.


Zubin Foundation: From Empowering Youths, Saving Forced Marriage of Pakistanis to Enhancing Political Engagement

The Zubin Mahtani Gidumal Foundation, established in 2015, was named after Zubin Mahtani Gidumal, a 5th generation Hong Kong Pakistani who passed away at the age of 3. His parents established the organization to carry on the legacy of Zubin, of whom the intrinsic meaning behind the name is ‘to honor’ and ‘to serve’.

Apart from organizing multiple workshops to enhance the competitiveness of EM youths, Zubin Foundation also set up a hotline for women and girls in need of help, named ‘Call Mira’. A whole system backed up the hotline involving lawyers and social workers. Women normally call in for employment issues, legal advice, divorce assistance or domestic violence and volunteers would assist them with finding lawyers and provide emotional support for these vulnerable women.

Sandy brought up the forced marriage issue during the interview, a topic seemingly unrelated to Hong Kong while actually happen within the Pakistanis community. The girls get engaged around 14 and get married at the age of 18, sometimes even earlier.

She explained that the majority of the girls have no problem with arranged marriage itself but quite frustrated having no rights to say ‘NO’ to their parents. And the girls tend not to talk about the issue to not make her family feel ashamed. The family harmony prevails over their own wishes. “If your parents threaten you that they’ll stop your sibling’s education, what will you do? They’ve got no choice,” Sandy said pitifully.

Not all people think NGOs like Zubin Foundation are reliable thus Zubin Foundation chooses to approach these families through the informant in the community and persuade the parents in a religious way. For instance, with the help of reputable Chief Imam, the head of the Muslim community, from Kowloon Mosque.

The organization has also launched the program Town Hall since 2015, an open-door meeting for EM to make suggestions to government officials. The initiative is to enhance the political engagement of EM community, letting them speak to the government directly without NGO as intermediate. In 2017, the chief secretary for administration Matthew Cheung Kin-Cheung joined the townhall for opinion collections.

(The content in the above graph is an excerpt from the event minutes published by Zubin Fonudation.The participants raised their points regarding education, healthcare, language policy and also employment.)

They’ve also produced diversity list, a list of outstanding ethnic minority representatives dedicated to improve the community and promote cultural integration. 23 people from the lists have be recruited into the government advisory committee since 2015. “Ethnic minorities know more about their demands than anyone else. Having them in government advisory committee could possibly make some real changes,” explained by Sandy.

Nevertheless, only a handful of non-Chinese faces can be seen in the government. Among the 1090 nominated candidates for District Council Ordinary Election 2019, only four are ethnic non-Chinese and two of them won the final election.

(District Council Ethnic Minority Nomiated Candidates Election Information from 2003 to 2019.)

The lack of EM representative stimulates insufficient law and regulation regarding races. Hong Kong government enacted the Race Discrimination Ordinance in June 2008, under the pressure of United Nations criticism. Before the enactment, United Nations urged Hong Kong government to enact the legislation regarding racial discrimination or would be considered as in breach of government.

Along with Race Discrimination Ordinance, there are three more discrimination ordinances in Hong Kong, including sex, disability and family status. Former legislator Emily Lau Wai-hing considered Race Discrimination Ordinance to be the weakest as it doesn’t cover the government’s exercise but only states “This ordinance binds the government” in Section 3.

The other three ordinances also have “This ordinance binds the government” stated in Section 3 but also prescribe in several sections that government should not discriminate when performing its function.

Weak restriction on the government means insufficiency in protection against racial discrimination to ethnic minorities. As reported by the South China Morning Post, the government claimed it to be unnecessary to amend the Race Discrimination Ordinance, given that the Administrative Guidelines on Promotion of Racial Equality have been in place since 2010.

However, in 2018, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) under the United Nations said the Hong Kong government may be underestimating the severity of racial discrimination in Hong Kong at its hearing held in Geneva. They urged Hong Kong government to expressly prohibit both direct and indirect racial discrimination in all fields of public life, including law enforcement and other government powers.

EM University Students' Lives

This year, the theme of Zubin Foundation diversity list is ‘Youth’. Fariha Salma Deiya Bakar, the 19-year-old from City University of Hong Kong were awarded for her passion to serve the EM community. She is currently a Legislative Council assistant and aims to become the first ethnic minority lawmaker in this Chinese dominant lawmaking system. The project she worked on with her friends, named ‘Project Ethnic Minority Empowerment’(PEME), has been an active voice for EM youths through mentorship, networking and advocacy.

Shari Tsang, a final year computer science student in City University of Hong Kong, became the team core member after joining the mentorship scheme of PEME to help EM secondary students go through DSE preparation. Having organized multiple cultural festivals and produced 2 podcasts about EM students living in Hong Kong, Shari puts ‘proud member of PEME’ as her signature on Instagram.

(Shari hosting the podcast produced by PEME, Collide-Scope, to share the school life as an ethnic minority student.)

As a Chinese mestizo, she has lived in both Hong Kong and the Philippines. “Before I left for the Philippines at the age around 6, I didn't even know the Philippines existed. The concept of being different never crossed my mind. I just thought everyone was the same. And then I realized that race and nationality was a thing.”

Shari learnt Tagalog in the Philippines and forgot Cantonese there. After coming back to Hong Kong, she took General Certificate of Education (GCE) class with other EM students in her primary school starting from an abridged version of Cantonese, equivalent to kindergarten level. Looking back to her struggling Cantonese study experience, Shari felt her Chinese would probably be much better if not started with abridged version of Cantonese.

“It would've been harder to grasp as a kid, you would've gotten used to it earlier. What really helped me in secondary was my classmates who were all local Chinese. Unfortunately a lot of EMs don't have the luxury opportunities of having all Chinese classmates. So even after they learn an abridged version of Cantonese, they wouldn't be able to put it to practice because they still use English or their own language at home,” Shari explained.

Education is the best way to promote cultural integration in her eye. An integrated society should allow different culture existing in harmony, and through integrating local Chinese and local EM kids at a young age, they could know each other and get exposed to both culture efficiently, as Shari said.

She also proposed to let local EM kids and local Chinese kids learn exactly the same curriculum. “I felt closer to my local Chinese classmates when we talk about the struggles of DSE. Having a common curriculum would allow the kids to sympathize with each other. It would also help the EM kids learn Cantonese at a young age so they can integrate to the society at the same rate as local Chinese kids.”

Through practice, Shari could speak fluent Cantonese now and she now interned as a technology support stuff. However, having EM friends rejected by companies in excuse of Cantonese incapability, she still worried that her imperfect Cantonese would affect her future career path one day. “I believe I got the luck to get this job now. But I keep thinking what if I have to look for another job. I probably won’t be as lucky. Seriously what if I choose some other fields? Do I need to leave Hong Kong to find a job?” Thoughts like these go through Shari’s head when she is off work.

Besides local born non-Chinese, international students also take up a portion of the university. Referring to the statistics released by eight universities in Hong Kong, nearly 6 percent of the students admitted in 2019/2020 are non-Chinese, including international students abroad.

Matthew Seaward, from United Kingdom, is the first Caucasian full-time undergraduate students in Hong Kong Baptist University till 2018. He came to Hong Kong all the way from London after being fed up with UK during his boarding school time. He pondered over US or Canada but ended up studying in Hong Kong. "I want to do something different. And I definitely want to find somewhere resembles home. Hong Kong is just perfect, having both Chinese side and British side"

The city is beyond his expectation. Clean, well-developed and regulated with a well functioned government – that’s the first impression Hong Kong left on Matthew. But frustration came fast when he discovered English is not the main language used in university and the Students’ Union ignored international students sometimes.

After receiving multiple emails from Students’ Union written in full Chinese, he smelled the scent of racism and emailed the president of Students’ Union to request them using English as official language. He got the chance to speak to the president of Students’ Union but no real action has Students’ Union after the conversation.

He is also upset about the politicalization trend of Hong Kong. “Generally, Hong Kong is good except racism mainly towards Southeastern Asian and the politicization of everything. Everything you did or said is very political. Even if you don’t mean to be political, it can be taken in a political way.” He supplemented he felt confused why Students’ Union, which means to take care of students on campus is so politically involved into external affairs.

Along the escalation of anti-extradition bill protest, Student Unions from all universities in Hong Kong have founded an association called Hong Kong Higher Institutions International Affair Delegation (HKIAD). “They’ve gone to UK, US. I realized they’ve tried to support the protests. But it should be separated from the student union. There is a distinct difference between being a student body and a political body.” Matthew felt uncomfortable when he noticed major student associations are ran by SU with an inherent bias and political incentives.

“They’ve done a good job representing a part of the local students. But the problem is they only represent what they want. The selectivism is not representation.”

Being a Caucasian from UK, he admitted enjoying the privilege brought by his UK identity sometimes. But after having witnessed unreasonable discrimination against his EM friends, he felt frustrated with the distinct boundary in between of different ethnicities. “That may not be racism but it’s really hard for foreigners to integrate. It makes me realize, regardless how hard I try to learn about local culture, I can never be a local”

Realizing Students’ Union in HK would never accept non-local non-Chinese as a representative, he decided to set up an International Student Club (ISC), striving for the welfares that international students deserved. The committee is composed of both local ethnic minorities and students coming to Hong Kong for college study.

So far they’ve organized several cultural seminars and festivals. The international students are excited to finally form their own community instead of being isolated from local Chinese and mainlanders. “But normally only international students or mainland students come to our booth for activities. Locals still don’t care,” the supervisor of ISC, Mr. J. J said.

Matthew has thought about going to mainland China after Shenzhen surpassed Hong Kong in GDP in 2019. The big market in China and vast resources become more attractive than Hong Kong to this 19-year-old British now. Singapore is also another top consideration for him.

He believes cultural inclusivity and government agenda should be applied as attributes of a global city. Meeting such requirement, he ranked Singapore as the top-tier Asian global city and London for the west.

London is the city with most migrants in the world. In 2018, about half of UK’s foreign-born population (51% in total) were either in London (38%) or the South East (14%). With nearly 30% of people in London holding a foreign passport, the city has demonstrated various methods of promoting cultural integration for other countries to learn. And currently, the mayor of London is Sadiq Khan, a southeast Asian.

(Sadiq Khan elected as London Mayor in 2016.)

“You can never see a southeast Asian be the chief executive in Hong Kong right?”, the question was raised by Matthew.

Ethnic Minority Workers in Hong Kong

Identity dilemma of an American after living in Hong Kong for 9 years

Michael Robinson, lecturer at the Academy of Film of Hong Kong Baptist University, has resided in Hong Kong over 9 years. Worked as a freelancer with a master degree in 2008, while financial crisis hitting in, he decided to change his life after the unpleasant divorce of his first marriage. Starting off his day with sending tens of job applications worldwide at that period, he received a call inviting him to teach in Asia one day and so he did.

(Michael Robinson, lecturer at Hong Kong Baptist University, sitting in his office when having no class.)

Hong Kong felt like New York to him, with vertical skyscrapers and fast-paced lifestyle. He currently lived on Lamma Island now with his wife and two kids. For him, Lamma Island is an integrated community despite several conflicts have aroused after the escalation of anti-extradition bill protest.

When Michael first came to Hong Kong, he had no idea about Asia. But all his concerns were soon resolved as he saw quite a considerable proportion of the advertisements in Hong Kong are featured by Caucasian faces. He felt the place resembled home but also strange.

Back in America, they need to ponder over the skin color of characters in the advertisements to avoid racism. ‘An estimate of 20% of the posters are white faces but we, the Caucasians, are actually not 20% of the population.’ Michael doubted why he couldn’t see any Southeast Asian face on advertisements or MTR posters even though Southeast Asian are statistically equal to or even more than the white in population.

The feeling of leaving certain groups of people out made Michael feel uncomfortable sometimes. But Michael found it hard to judge whether Hong Kong is an integrated society from his position as he benefited from the privilege brought by his ethnicity, though sometimes in an alienated etiquette. People normally treat him in a polite way seeing his Caucasian face. Despite his living in current neighborhood for 5 years, the grocery store downstairs still treats him like a foreigner.

Michael started to struggle when thinking about his identity. Living in Hong Kong for nearly 10 years, Michael was hesitated to define himself as American as he could not identify the popular American culture and does not feel the ownership in USA. But he didn’t regard himself as Hong Konger as well.

Language is the main barrier preventing him from more interaction with the local Chinese. Not speaking Cantonese is a tremendous disadvantage for him as he could not read what his students were thinking when they suddenly all speak in Chinese.

The awkwardness also occurs when his wife’s Chinese family switch into Chinese during family gathering. From his experience of his Cantonese pronunciation getting teased but not taught at family gathering, he felt Hong Kong people have no spirit of helping other people to learn their culture and became aware that he could never be a Hong Konger even though he might live here to death.

But he also sees good side from the barrier as he felt no pressure to adapt to the culture. His motherland, America, is called melting pot, as people will be considered as American as long as they have lived there for a while. But he pointed out the melting pot only melts in one way, forcing people to assimilate into the society under pressure. Thus, he is glad that he does not to deal with the pressure in Hong Kong as people are not forced to integrate.

However, his living habits have adapted to some extent within 9 years. For example, Michael felt more comfortable using chopsticks and even unfamiliar with forks and knives sometimes.‘That’s the moment when I feel I may be a Hong Konger,’ he joked.

Young EM workers frustrated with this city and planning to move out

As a former inbound exchange student studying at Hong Kong Baptist University(HKBU) back in 2010, Juventius determined to return to Hong Kong in 2015 to work as a university staff supporting ethnic minority students in HKBU. But recently he has made up his mind to move to Singapore for further MBA study.

Always mentioned as twins in Asia, Hong Kong and Singapore compete fiercely over years on account of their similar geographic location, economic status, social composition and also the multiculturalism.

Singapore is a multiracial and multicultural country with three major ethnic groups, Chinese, Malay and Indian. In order to cater to different races, Singapore government made English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil as their official and equal languages, applied in parliament and taught in schools.

(Ethnic Chinese is dominant ethnic group in Singapore and Chinese population has increased significantly from 1957 to 2018.

In 1966, the Singapore government implemented bilingual policy, encouraging Singaporeans to be proficient in both English and their respective ethnic mother tongues as Lee Kwan Yew, the first prime minister of Singapore, regarded connecting different ethnicity groups as his mission and proposed the policy. However, the effectiveness of the policy has also been questioned by some people as it may lead to deficiency in both languages and deeper racial divisions.

Juventius interpreted the implementation of bilingual language policy in Hong Kong as the recognition of identity, which cannot be achieved in Hong Kong. “Hong Kong government will never make Tamil its official language though the Indian have been living and contributing to Hong Kong for over 50 years,” he added.

(A road sign in Singapore, written in all official languages, English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil. Such quadrilingual sign is commonly seen in Singapore.)

Juventius felt Hong Kong has changed in many ways compared to 10 years ago. “It used to be more integrated. The sentiment towards mainland people and the ignorance of ethnic minorities used not to be this severe.”

He recalled the time when he returned to Hong Kong and wanted to open a bank account, the bank clerk asked directly if he was a domestic helper after noticing he was Indonesian. He felt the stereotype unacceptable but also determined to serve the ethnic minority community more, but later when he realized Indonesian cannot be respected as they deserve, he decided to leave Hong Kong for Singapore.

He believed Hong Kong people should endeavor to actively embrace other culture and be more culturally sensitive instead of waiting for others to adapt. Comparing the situation of EM urging for cultural integration in Hong Kong to an example of boys chasing after girls, Juventius said. “Even if boys are chasing hard, they have to ensure that the girls have a willingness. If the girls show no interest, boys may just give up and move out like me.”

His friend, Niko Solidum, an Indonesian employee in JP Morgan Hong Kong, is also not satisfied with the cultural segregation in Hong Kong.

Niko has been working in Hong Kong industry for 3 and a half year. Graduated from Manila University in 2011 and having working in financial industry ever since then, he became the first candidate for Manual Life Asset Management Investment Trainee Program in the Philippines. He was assigned to Hong Kong for the last six months of the trainee program and decided to stay here after receiving the permanent job offer in this renowned financial hub.

“This is a place hard to chill but the public infrastructure and urban planning is really convenient,” Niko enjoyed his life now and managed to play badminton with his friends regularly when off work.

Niko’s team consists of 7 people, including him, an American Taiwanese, a Hong Kong Australian and other local Chinese.

The work norm confused Niko from day one as it is different from the Philippines. His office in Hong Kong is quiet of the most time, which is different from the office full of chatting and laughter back in the Philippines.

Living a typical expat lifestyle in Hong Kong, Niko hangs out with expats more. “I have no ‘local local’ friend here.” He created the term ‘local local’ to refer to the local Chinese growing up their entire lives in Hong Kong. “All my local friends have studied abroad. The differences between them and ‘local local’ are obvious. Those who have lived abroad are more open-minded and more outgoing”, he added.

Encountering South Asian face stigma often, Niko feels Hong Kong a materialism and white supremacism place. For several times on the dating app, after telling the matched partner he is from the Philippines, he received no reply forever.

Among the 15 replies to the questionnaire conducted by the author regarding foreigners’ perception on Hong Kong, 4 participants show their dislike towards some people’s attitude in Hong Kong as Niko does.

(Five out of fifteen participants dislike the bad attitude and lack of respect shown by Hong Kong people.)

Niko admitted sometimes feeling annoyed to be labelled as uneducated and unemployed because of his nationality but he insisted that he would never try to live a comfortable life through denying himself as a Filipino. “The label and stereotype culture in Hong Kong bothered me but I don’t want to live comfortably through denying myself,” he said.

And he felt happy that his fellow Filipinos could work in Hong Kong to support their families, regardless of the occupation.

Domestic Helpers in Hong Kong

The majority of the Filipinos and Indonesians work as domestic helpers in Hong Kong, providing housekeeping, cooking and childcare services to the employers. Based on the 2016 Hong Kong Census, nearly 32,000 foreign domestic helpers served in the households with a Minimum Allowable Wage (MAW) of 4,630HKD per month required by the government.

(Domestic helpers spending their Sunday afternoon at open space in Central to share food, buy clothes from South Asian hawkers and ship goods back to their hometown.)

Under the Standard Employment Contract, employers must provide the helpers with suitable accommodation and with reasonable privacy, free food (or food allowance for replacement, which is HK$1,121 per month at present) and free passage from the helper’s home country to Hong Kong and return to the home country on termination or expiry of the contract.

Though agreeing on the description that domestic helper is like a modern format of slavery, he thinks it’s still a quite precious opportunity to earn money and support their families back in the Phillipines. Julie Tircelino, a Filipino domestic helper working in Hong Kong for 7 months after returning from the same job in Saudi Arabic, consented to the importance of this work opportunity.

Julie came to Hong Kong for her family and the future of her children. Having his husband taking care of the family in Manila, the capital of Philippines, she worked to support her family and cover the tuition fee of her 11-year-old boy, 10-year-old girl and 8-year-old youngest daughter.

She normally would save 2,000HKD for her own living in Hong Kong and mailed the remaining 3,000HKD back home. Seldomly scolded by her employer, Julie felt grateful to work in Hong Kong as the wage of her family in past was around 1,000HKD per month in total. And she wished to work till her kids all attend the university.

Not as lucky as Julie, some foreign domestics helpers have been reported to be abused by the employers. And sometimes the exploited domestic helpers choose not to speak out as it’s hard to find new employment in a short time. The ‘two-week policy’ stipulates that the domestic helpers have to leave Hong Kong within two weeks after the end of their contract and this policy has received criticism for discouraging the domestic helpers to terminate their contract, even though they are tortured.

Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, former domestic helper in Hong Kong was physically abused by her employers Law Wan-tung for months between 2013 and 2014. The Indonesian girl was forced to sleep on floor and work 21 hours per day without day off, sometimes even be beaten up with mop or clothes hanger. Suffering from bruise and malnutrition, she ultimately reported to the police with the encouragement of others after returning to Indonesia. Law Wan-tung was later sentenced to six years in prison in 2015 for but released from jail early in 2018.

Erwiana now is campaigning for better law to protect domestic helpers in Hong Kong. “The government should be supporting the migrants because we are workers. We are not slaves,” Erwiana told the South China Morning Post in May 2019.