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Calvin Dong
5 min readApr 5, 2018

I don’t want to talk about identity anymore. Class after class, it’s been drilled in me that identity is not cut and dried, that identity is a product of an environment that continually fluctuates and changes, and for how many books have tried to address the problem of self-identification (re: all Asian American immigrant stories) they seem to all boil down to that there exists a problem, and some balancing is needed.

In a nutshell, my sense of home is distorted. Seeing how my parents live their lives and seeing how people in China do the same makes it clearly evident that this is where my parents belong(ed). With my US education and English language, I’m the children of outsiders but yet not an outsider myself, at least when I’m in the United States. If someone were to ask me where I’m from, where home is, I would never say Tianjin, China. When I get asked that in Hong Kong, I usually say California since that’s easier to explain than Maryland. Yet, I don’t consider myself very (northern) “Californian”, it it’s possible to ascribe a set of cultural descriptions to the Bay. I know NorCal very well at this point, sure, but it’s not my home.

Maybe it’s better to not ask that question at all — I think in general, people including myself are too preoccupied with ascribing some type of identity or location to someone. If I don’t know someone, I call them “x from y” or something similar. And normally, when that location is someone different than “United States”, I subconsciously assume that there are some significant cultural differences between me and them. Cue the moments of surprise when that “Australian dude” speaks American accented English and turns out to have been raised by Americans. That, too, seems to cause many of the cultural clashes that all those books talk about — an internal preoccupation with who you, yourself, really are turns into an outright rejection of any beliefs or any person who is thought of as external, as foreign. Obviously nonscientific, but I know plenty of people who went through this and a few who ended up discarding all traces of their Asian “heritage”.

Going back even further, this predates civilization. Everyone needs to belong in a pack for survival. We are inherently social creatures, and the brain is wired to find one and belong to one at all costs. For how much we talk about globalization, it’s an inherently modern concept and goes against human instincts. That’s why it bothers me whenever I see that quote that accosts conservatives by saying “I don’t know how to explain to you that you should care about other people”. Believing that the world is better off when we take in “illegal” immigrants is the product of… education. To someone without it, it’s too easy to view any “non-American” as a threat to society, that they are invading the American “pack” and making us worse off.

Anyways, I think this obsession with origin and heritage is something that’s fundamentally human, and is a major contributor to divisiveness and cultural clashes, from the individual Chinese born American kid thinking Chinese cultural values are dumb to the anti trade, nationalist policies we’re seeing in government now. Do I have any solutions? Not really, except for the obvious “more education”. To the American born Chinese who hates being Chinese, there’s nothing wrong with taking the best elements of both that you agree with. I wish I knew that the world wasn’t binary back then.

Part 2

I’m starting to learn this city. The subway map is becoming less and less vital to my survival. When people ask me where to go here, I know what to tell them. I’m still working on it, but I’m capable of imitating a native born Hong Konger, as long as no one engages me in extended conversation in Cantonese.

He takes a look up at the sky. A light pastel orange tint, seems familiar. A seat on the bench isn’t the best vantage point, but at least he can see the sea. Oh, and all the dogs and their happy owners trotting around. He walks to the edge of the world and watches the waves froth at the concrete edges.

In HK Cantonese, to take out food is “leng zau”. It’s common for people to grab some quick food at lunchtime and eat it at one of the “sitting out areas”, aka a small space with benches, greenery, and perhaps a gazebo or two.

She orders what she always ordered, char siu faan. 30 dollars, a good enough deal for the speed and quality. The restaurant had been there for 100 years, and she remembers her grandma and her mom telling her stories about it. Now, it’s become so ingrained into her routine that she doesn’t even think about it, but the routine of the brief staccato “ho m ho yi jau yat go char siu faan”, curt responses, and subsequent walk to Southern playground to watch old men relive their athletic dreams takes her mind off the financials she has to do by tomorrow.

There’s a great website called Sassy Hong Kong that has the best guides to what to do in HK. I use it to find most places I end up visiting, and it feels like a much more organic discovery process than Yelp. One person had to believe in the restaurant/place/anything enough to publish it in an article when that’s their job.

Suzanne Wong spins around in her chair.

“Hey,” she says, “which one of you published that piece on the best parks in HK?”

Young Lam sheepishly raises his hand.

“Have you never been to Kowloon Walled City Park? That park has one of the most unique histories and design in all of Hong Kong.”

“I was just considering-“

“Fix it. You have two days.”

There’s still so many things I want to do here, and that makes me very excited. While the conception of home has become more and more blurred for me, as I accumulate places and faces, I’m gradually getting closer to living my own definition of a fulfilled life, and that’s all I could ever ask for.

Maybe the next time someone asks me where I’m from, I’ll say:

“a lot of places”.

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