I don’t often write cerebral posts these days… but I wanted to give you some insight into the oddity of being an expat married to a chinese guy in Hong Kong. In particular how isolating it can be.
This post is an emotional response to an experience I had the other day with some expat mums here.
Talking casually about various localities in Hong Kong, I happened to ask where one place was – I was genuinely interested in going there. The response I got was along the lines of “you should know – you’re a local.” At first I was shocked. I’ve only been here two and a bit years. It hardly qualifies me as a local in any real sense. I’m a kiwi – I wasn’t born here, and I would never profess to know all there is to know about this city. I kind of brushed the comment off, but in hindsight I realised it could have been implying something entirely different.
Remember that I am married to a chinese man. I choose to try to learn and actively speak Cantonese in everyday society here (but I am by no means truly fluent). I don’t mind going to a divey chinese dai pai dong (open air street restaurant) for very local food. That is all part of the experience of living in another country to me.
I reinterpreted the comment as implying that I was not a ‘true’ expat. Not worthy of being included in ‘expat’dom. It made me feel as though I was some kind of second-rate citizen, unaccepted by people I thought were my equals and non-bias peers. That made me angry. I am sure the mum didn’t mean to offend (at least I HOPE she didn’t), and possibly she wasn’t meaning it to be taken as harshly as I did, but it hurt me to realise there is a perception of “them and us”. I realised I am an outsider in a group of people I thought were my peers.
Of course, I don’t conform to a lot of the supposedly typical expat traits. I don’t go out to lunch every few days to drink wine. I don’t spend all my husbands wages each month on making myself look younger/pretty, etc with things such as regular pedicures and manicures. I don’t have to have the latest (fake or real) designer handbag every month or two. I don’t update my furniture/computer/electrical equipment/car yearly to whatever the latest expat trend is. I don’t feel the urge to have to dress up just to take my son to the school bus each morning. I don’t enjoy sitting around bitchily gossiping about other mums and their children (and when said mum arrives pretend to be all nice-nice to them).
I suppose I shouldn’t be all that upset about being outcast as a local, however I don’t exactly fit into the local chinese circles either, but for different reasons. Mostly, it slows down the flow of things when you have to repeat everything for the token “gwaipoor” (white woman). Some locals become more restrained or guarded about what they say so as not to offend. Often it is innocently ignorant, but not-so-often there is the same “them and us” perception underlying everything as well. I’m lucky that most of the local chinese mums I know are very tolerant and include me when I am with them.
Feels so strange to be mostly accepted by one group, but not by another which I should have a closer/easier relationship with.
I find myself with one foot in the expat world, and the other foot in the local chinese world, but neither really accept me for simply who I am. Prejudice can be a cruel beast.
I am left confused, unsure, and feeling more alone that I ever have when I confront attitudes like this.
“This race is already run
Get off your horse
Get on this train
Welcome to the real world
I said, Welcome to the real world
Are we rushing like the wind
Naked out and naked in
Welcome to the free world
I said, Welcome to the me world
Are we rushing like the wind” – Elemental, Tears For Fears