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Hong Kong and India - Kaleidoscope: Wanderlust and City Dust from the Eyes of a Migrant

We interviewed two people on the migrant experience: One of them is a South Korean who has resided in India for four years since middle school, and the other is a migrant from mainland China who came to Hong Kong when she was twelve. 

Q: What are some policies taken by the local government to ensure the integration of migrants?

A (India): There has been an array of policies brought forth by our local governments that benefit the migrants. One of them, named "Rythu Bandhu" in Telugu (loosely translated as "Farmer's Relative"), is an initiative aiming at enhancing agricultural productivity and thus breaking the vicious cycle of rural indebtedness, which has been a major issue in the state for decades. Another one, "Haritha Haram" (loosely translated as "Garland of Greenery"), envisages increasing the present tree cover from 24% to 33% of the total area of the state, which provided employment opportunities to migrants too. These policies are not ineffective, but they have not changed the situation of migrants drastically.

A (Hong Kong): In general, social welfare in Hong Kong is decent and is usually offered to all. Community centres and public facilities are subsidized by the government to provide affordable activities. Numerous charitable organizations and social workers also offer free assistance to different types of people. For migrants, I know that some charities offer Cantonese lessons and the government also provides some training programs for unemployed individuals. However, my family members and I have never joined them.

Q: Do migrants of different backgrounds integrate into the local community with different levels of difficulty?

A (India): All migrants are major victims of India's long-lasting societal norms. In India, migrants are usually from the Eastern side, namely Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand. However, conservative Indians are notorious for judging people on the basis of their caste and social status. This situation shows no signs of improvement even till now. Also, neighbouring countries account for almost 97% of the migration into India, but due to geopolitical issues, there has been this sense of pseudo-nationalism that negatively impacts these migrants. This is why, as of now, it will be very difficult for migrants in general to integrate into society unless some changes are made to tackle the root of the problem.

A (Hong Kong): Certainly. Firstly, Hong Kong has a high price level, so people from low-income class or low-skilled workers may not integrate very well. Secondly, people of some ethnicities may integrate easier than others. In my observation, probably due to the colonial influence, most Hong Kong locals tend to treat Caucasians nicely, even subconsciously perceiving them as naturally superior. However, some conservative Hong Kong people hold negative stereotypes of South Asians and Africans, and thus intentionally distancing them. As for me, a mainland Chinese, I am constantly subjected to discrimination. When I first came to Hong Kong, I was not aware of many tacit cultural norms, such as ‘walking on the left, standing on the right’ on escalators, so I was being accused of having poor manners. I do agree that some mainlanders may not be very civilized, but I strongly believe that it is wrong to assume that every mainlander is barbaric and impolite. Many Hong Kong people call mainlanders ‘pests’, which made me extremely miserable because such a dehumanizing term overlooks our contribution to Hong Kong’s booming economy and negates our human nature. Furthermore, the discrimination that I have been suffering is aggravated by the current political polarization in Hong Kong. As I embarrassingly stood at the middle of the political spectrum from blue to yellow (blue and yellow refer to two opposing political camps, ie. the pro-China camp and the pan-democrats), refusing to label myself as either side, I have been confronted by hostility from my classmates who had taken a side and were convinced that I am their enemy by remaining neutral. In fact, many mainland migrants like me are torn by the recent political situation in Hong Kong as we are marginalized both by the mainland Chinese and the Hong Kong locals.

Q: In what ways are the cultures in your country / region of origin different from those in your country / region of residence? Do you prefer one culture to another?

A (India): I currently live in an area that is near to my school, so everyone basically knows each other. Perhaps because of that, the way Indian residents communicate with each other makes one feels that everyone is willing to help one another. However, when I was living in South Korea, I felt that people were always very busy, and they were living in their own world. I am also not that stressed when I’m studying in India compared to South Korea, although people always say that students in both countries face a lot of pressure. In terms of culture, I definitely enjoy Diwali in India, since it’s a very important festival for everyone, and it’s very festive. As for Korean culture, my favourite bit will be traditional music like Pungmul (풍물). 


A (Hong Kong): It is very hard to comment because the cultures of mainland China and Hong Kong can be very similar or very different depending on your perspective. The taste of Chinese food and rituals performed in Chinese festivals are mostly identical in mainland and Hong Kong. Nevertheless, Hong Kong as a multinational metropolis also embraces some Western cuisines and festivals, but China does not due to the strong national pride.  

In my opinion, the most obvious cultural differences are political and religious ones. Politically, the orthodox political stance in Hong Kong and China are the opposite. Also, most mainlanders take the official political stance declared in official media (such as People’s Daily), while Hong Kong people’s political stances used to be more diverse until the recent political events. In terms of religion, ​while China practices atheism, Hong Kong grants religious freedom to every citizen. Personally, I think believers of various religions coexist relatively peacefully, and people generally do not discriminate against people based on their religions. 

Q: What is the hardest part of adapting to the local education system?

A (India): The Indian mode of learning has been based on rote memorization since the inception of education through the Gurukul System in India. This approach of learning has stifled the interest in "learning" concepts in school, but instead brought up "memorizing" concepts in school. This is why India is known for churning out students from Maths and Science, because the subject is purely factual and formula-based, which makes it easy for rote memorization at the start. Also, the culture of education is quite pragmatic, meaning that people only pursue subjects that enable them to have a better career prospect, instead of subjects that genuinely interest them intellectually. According to a survey, only 15% of students get into the stream of math and science because they are passionate about the subjects, while 49% of students choose these subjects due to pressure from peers and family, and the rest pursue the subjects simply because they need a degree. On another hand, less than 20% of students opt for Social Sciences, in which 18% of them choose Economics. Therefore, I’d say the over-reliance on rote memorization and the lack of genuine interest in the subjects studied are two problems in the education system. 

Unlike countries like the UK and the US who almost triple the tuition fees for foreigners and tend to give local students an edge in admission, India ensures equal competition for foreign students by giving them hassle-free admissions. So I do not think I cannot adapt to the education system simply because I am a migrant.

A (Hong Kong): In terms of difficulty, compared to the mainland education system, the Chinese and Maths curriculum in Hong Kong are much easier. However, the English curriculum is also significantly harder. As someone who is good at Maths and Chinese but weak in English, I had a difficult time adjusting myself to this change. In terms of education style, I think both sides adopt a rather mechanical way of learning that emphasizes rote memorization and numerous practices. However, there has been a growing demand for activity-based lessons in both regions. In general, learning in Hong Kong is easier. There are too many students in mainland China who are all instilled with the notion of ‘knowledge changes one’s destiny’ and burdened by the anticipation of their parents. Students generally study very hard and so the competition is fierce. In comparison, although some Hong Kong parents have high expectations for their kids and send them to all kinds of extra-curricular classes, I think most Hong Kong parents also allow their kids to rest and have fun. I understand that China is eager to nurture a batch of intellectuals to promote economic growth and facilitate her economy to transition from secondary industry to high-end tertiary industry through vigorous learning and intense competition. I recognize the benefits brought to the entire nation by this approach, but I also realize that it causes tremendous suffering to individuals, especially kids who are not good at studying. I hope there can be some changes in the future.

Q: What are the major barriers hindering you from completely integrating into the local community?

A (India): The societal division as I have previously mentioned makes integration extremely difficult. Moreover, India has a high population density and very diverse cultures. Local cultures, customs, norms, ideals differ from community to community, society to society. In one place, spitting may be the "taxi driver's norm" in Mumbai, whereas spitting in Kerala will result in a huge fine. Looking eye-to-eye in a conversation is good etiquette in urban societies, but in traditional Hindu families, looking eye-to-eye at an elder is a sign of disrespect. Therefore, it's difficult to fully integrate into local cultures. If you do some research and adaptations, maybe you can integrate better; but still, these are traditions practised for centuries, so as students, it will be very difficult to adapt.

A (Hong Kong): The accent problem and the hostility from locals towards mainland migrants. No matter how hard I try, it is difficult to fully eradicate my mainland accent when I speak Cantonese. My accent is a marker of my origin, reminding my peers that I am different from them. 

Interviewed by Brittany Wong and Megan Kong

Edited by Chloe Yeung

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