Cultural diversity among Chinese- PART 2 Macau and Hong Kong

Two weeks ago, I interviewed two students from Mainland China and Hong Kong. This time, I would like to explore the cultural diversity among Macau and Hong Kong. Why do I choose these two places? It is because both Macau and Hong Kong were once colonies. As such, I assume that they might share similar customs and values with relation to their Chinese heritage - despite having different colonial influences. Besides, mainland China is closely related to these two places regarding economic, political and social support, so I would like to know more about the thought of Macanese and Hong Kongese in respect to the mainland China. 

First of all, I would like to briefly introduce Macau, as some of you might be unfamiliar with this place. Macau is a special administrative region of the People's Republic of China (PRC). It used to be a colony of Portugal before 1999. When we talk about Macau, what usually comes to mind are the grand casinos of various colors. With more than 25 casinos in a city, Macau is sometimes called “The Eastern Las Vegas.” The official languages of Macau are Chinese and Portuguese (however, I found most of my friends from Macau do not speak Portuguese). Believe it or not, Macau is the most densely populated place in the world.

 Templo de A-Má, Macau

Templo de A-Má, Macau

Just as in Hong Kong, some people in Macau feel uncomfortable about the assimilation and interference of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Besides, there are a lot of conflicts between mainland China and Macau as well. I had a great chance to have a discussion with two Chinese students, one from Macau and one from Hong Kong. Once again, it is important to note that their voices are based on their personal experience and point of view. They do not represent all the people from Macau and Hong Kong. 

Mans: an international student from Macau.

Calvin: an international student from Hong Kong.

Mans, given that Macau is very near to Hong Kong. I bet you always visit Hong Kong every year. Would you mind to talk about your impression of Hong Kong briefly?  

Mans: You are right; most of my friends and I always go to Hong Kong. The reasons are that there are more choices of food, and the dishes are more delicious than Macau’s. Especially, I love the Japanese food in Hong Kong. I also enjoy shopping there as it is a shopping paradise with large shopping malls in every district. 

Calvin: I cannot agree more that the food quality is not bad in Hong Kong, despite the waiting time to get a seat in the restaurant.

Mans: Ya, even if I’d make a reservation in advance, I would still have to wait for a table. Lots of restaurants' wait time is around 45 minutes to one hour. When I go to the local restaurant, especially those that are not fancy, you can’t even reserve a seat. Not only the restaurant but also everything else, such as transportation and boutiques. There are lots of people everywhere in Hong Kong! 

I do agree you have to line up for everything in Hong Kong. It is a busy city, you know. Calvin, what do you think about Macau?

Calvin: Hmm, I have only visited Macau once, so I do not know much about it. To me, although Macau is very near to Hong Kong, it is all about gambling. Personally, I do not gamble a lot, so there is not much reason for me to visit Macau. Hmm.. some of my friends do go to Macau’s casino every half year. They told me the Thai food in Macau is very nice. 

Although I visit Macau once a year, I have never had a chance to try their Thai food before. I thought Macau is famous for Portuguese cuisines instead. I should visit the Thai restaurant on my next trip to Macau. So, I would like to know more what you have heard about the stereotypes or misinterpretation of Hong Kong and Macau? 

Mans: Despite the geographical intimacy between Hong Kong and Macau, it is interesting that Hong Konger always asks me some weird but funny questions about Macau. For example, “Does Macau have an airport? Do Macau people speak Cantonese? Does Macau have its own television station? Does Macau have any shopping mall? Does Macau people do this or do that….. ”. Hmm, although I am not offended by these questions, still I am wondering how come people from Hong Kong have no ideas how Macau or Macau people like. 

Calvin: Haha, I used to get confused with Macau with Mainland China as well. The way Macau people speak, sometimes I feel like they are from Guangzhou. 

Mans: For the stereotype of Hong Kong, people seems have to work overtime every single day, as if they are very busy and have a lot of work to do. My friends and I used to think Hong Kong people are good at English. However, when I’ve met more and more friends from Hong Kong at UBCO, I found that their comprehension and writing skills are pretty good but not the verbal fluency. Other than that, it seems like they are quite smart and competitive as well. 

Calvin: Hong Kong’s property market is probably the world’s most unaffordable one. I admit that most people in Hong Kong, especially the lower class and the middle class, work very hard to buy an apartment. We have to choice but to work and work and work to get a place to live. After deducting the transportation fees and food expense, almost all the portions of our earnings go to the payment of the housing mortgage.  

How about the economic activities in Macau and Hong Kong?

Mans: When it comes to economic activities, Macau relies heavily on gambling business and this brings a significant amount of tax revenue to our government. Many residents, especially the housewives, would like to work for the casino given the enormous demand of dealer. With the significant amount of tax revenue from gambling business, our government will give out more than 1000 CAD to each resident once a year. Besides, there are different subsidies and social welfare available for us as well. For example, as an international student, I can receive some subsidies from the government to pay for the tuition fee here. Overall, gambling business is the heart of Macau. 

Calvin: For the major economic activities in Hong Kong, I believe they are financial activities and retailing services. Since Hong Kong is one of the leading international financial centers in the world, it attracts foreigners to invest our stock market and property. Also, as a shopping and food paradise, we rely heavily on tourism. 

Calvin: To be honest, I am quite jealous that you receive money from the government every year, Mans. It has only happened once that the Hong Kong government gave out approximately 1000 CAD for citizens who were older than 18 years old. Many noises have arisen since then. Some think that the money distributed should be better invest on projects that help people in need. Others think that a lot of people just use the money to buy the luxury product, such as the newest version of iPhone. So, after the first year, our government has stopped giving money out to the residents. 

How about the political sense of these two places? What do you think?

Calvin: I believe Macau people is quite satisfied with the government as I seldom notice there is any protest against the government in Macau. In Hong Kong, politics are complicated. Many people are trying to fight for democracy concerning the interference of the Chinese government. 

Mans: Generally, most citizens in Macau do not care about the political issue. It does not mean we are satisfied with the government. I feel like we are more pleased with the money given out by the government every year. Therefore, we seldom have the massive protest against our government or react intensely to the action of Chinese Communist Party (CCP). In my opinion, the government uses the money to shut our mouth. By doing so, it has speeded up the assimilation of Macau to the mainland China. 

So you've just mentioned assimilation. Can you tell me more about this?

Mans: It seems like the CCP are planning to rename Macau’s Chinese name and they are also trying to change our educational curriculum to improve our sense of belongings to China. I believe both Macau and Hong Kong cannot escape the fate of returning to China collectively. Maybe in our generation, there are people still fighting against the interference of the Chinese government. However, China is trying to change us by setting up more laws and changing the language and custom. Eventually and unconsciously, Macau and Hong Kong will certainly integrate into the People's Republic of China. They may lose the Special Administrative Region status as well. Furthermore, people may start to pronounce the name of Macau and Hong Kong with the pronunciation of Mandarin as Aomen and Xianggang, instead of  “Macau” and "Hong Kong."

Calvin: I agree that assimilation might seems inevitable to us. I believe some mainland Chinese might think we are too naïve as our rebellion is childish. They might believe that it is impossible for us to throw away the Chinese heritage that composed us. They may further assume that Western education pollutes us. Since we have practiced capitalism for a long time, we have already come into contact with democracy and human right. We just want to have a right to choose for our future. We just want to have a right to choose for our future. I understand it might sound stupid to defense against a strong government as China; however, we want to fight for the things we want rather than reject the things that we don’t want. I believe it is a long fight. If we do not try to fight for the future of Hong Kong, the city will die very soon.

 

 Santa Casa de Misericordia, Macau

Santa Casa de Misericordia, Macau

 

After having a discussion with Mans and Calvin on behalf of Macau and Hong Kong, it is interesting to find that although these two places share common backgrounds, they have different points of view and attitude regarding the return to China. 

There is a slogan called “Today Hong Kong and Macau, tomorrow Taiwan”. A lot of people think Macau and Hong Kong are the templets of Taiwan regarding the return of sovereignty to China. As such, I am curious to find out how Taiwan people see the relationship with the mainland China in the next series of blog.
 

 

 

 

THE JOURNEY OF A SYRIAN FAMILY: PART 4

As some hot tea and sweets were served by Mrs.Alsahoud, I asked Mohammad how life is now. He says with a relief how everything here is better than Jordan. There is no threat to him or his family’s lives and all of his children are enrolled in school. He is currently working in Toyota, washing cars. But one day, he wishes to go back to school and study math. That is when we both shared our fascination of the subject. I asked the kids how were they finding their new school. All five of them agreed on how it was good to be back to studying and explained they are enjoying their time in school. Mohammad interrupted me to say he has 6 more children. I asked where are they. He explained with sadness how they were scattered between Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and two of them were waiting at the Syrian border at the time because the Jordanian government was not accepting them. To lighten the mood, I asked him how he found Kelowna’s summer. The kids said how they found summer to be really beautiful, but some days it was as hot as it was in Syria. It turns out that we all shared an image of Canada as the ‘great white North’, and clearly we have been proven wrong by Kelowna! We ended the interview and as I was walking out, Mrs. Alsahoud hugged me.

What has truly inspired me is the optimism of the Alsahouds, the hospitality with which they treated me and how homely it felt. They didn’t let the war change who they are or darken their future. They didn’t let a war define their lives. They SURVIVED the war and decided to start a new chapter, make a new home. Sitting down with the Alsahoud family helped me understand the struggles of the war and know things that I would not have read in any news article. As a person who is an avid reader of current affairs, I have been following the Syrian War since the first protest. To be able to sit down with the people who have experienced the war, lived through it and survived, was truly a privilege. It made me appreciate my life more and increased the respect I had for refugees tenfold.

Refugees not just from Syria, but from other war-torn nations are fleeing to Europe. What can be seen is that very few nations are as welcoming to refugees as Canada and Germany has been. A lot of blame is being exchanged to avoid accepting refugees, many parties are on the defensive saying that they have done enough. Walls are being built, camps are like jails. Sometimes such behavior by nations makes me think that are they even treating these refugees as humans or as animals? After World War II, thousands of people from the Axis power nations fled elsewhere. The EU is one of the leading advocates for human rights. Now when the time has come to test them on the very same principles they advocate for, most EU nations have not stood up to it. However, it is not only Europe that needs to be looked at. Many Arab countries such as Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia have defended themselves by saying they have given shelter to millions of refugees. I salute them for this because they stepped up when many others didn’t. Still, they need to take the next step and ensure the integration of the refugees into their societies. The responsibility of the governments do not end by just sheltering the refugees and giving them food (sometimes it feels like a jail to them). The governments need to helps the refugees get jobs and their families settled. This also benefits the host nations because successful integration of the refugees into the society would mean that there will be a significant increase in the nation’s manpower and productive workforce. Refugees will then be able to contribute significantly to the host nation’s economy.

No one wants to flee their homes, turn their entire world upside down and feel that their life is at threat. No one wants to cross the Mediterranean with their children, knowing that they might die. No one wants to live in refugee camps and see their lives go by, helpless as they are unable to earn and improve the lives of their families and children. But sometimes all of these things do happen, and as much as it is unfortunate, they happen at the same time. These refugees are not criminals. They are law abiding citizens of their country where they either were a university student or professor, businessman, economist, engineer, scientist. They have the right, like every human being on this planet, to safety, security and happiness. They do not deserve to be treated as if they are unwanted, stopped by fences, be forced to walk hundreds of kilometers or live in refugee camps forever. They deserve to LIVE.

 

As I walked out, I asked Mohammad do you miss home?

He replied, “There is no home anymore.”

 

 

 

UBC Okanagan Students Union has taken a great initiative in helping out this family! Check it out: https://www.facebook.com/UBCSUOkanagan/video

THE JOURNEY OF A SYRIAN FAMILY: PART 3

Mohammad explained how refugee camps were not as great as one might think. Refugees were not able to get out of the camp without a sponsor or work permit (both of which were really expensive!). As Mohammad put it, ‘life in camps is a lot like prison’. When I asked why, he explained.

Syrians fled their country because it was either that or getting killed.  However, once crossing the border, the Jordanian government puts great hurdles (financially) in obtaining a work permit. Mohammad describes how he saw fellow Syrian brothers and sisters feeling trapped in the camps where there was no scope to work, there were no schools for the children and no one could go out of the camp. With hundreds of thousands of individuals sleeping and living in a small area and feeling trapped, this increases social problems. Mohammad elaborated that for the individuals who were able to obtain a work permit, getting jobs was harder as he found that the Jordanian society was not welcoming. Thus with no job, it was hard for these refugees to sustain their lives. For those working illegally in Jordan, it felt like a sword was hanging over their heads because if caught, then they would be deported back to Syria which to them was equivalent to dying.

Then I asked Mohammad that how did he come to Canada. He explained how the UN has a refugee database, as refugees have to apply to get the refugee status. The UN selected the Alsahoud family from its database, informing them that they had been accepted to be transferred to Canada. They were asked whether they agree and they said yes. Afterwards the Canadian embassy called them, asking various questions in an interview such as what Mohammad did in Syria, his background. This entire process took seven months. Finally, in May 2015, the Alsahoud family boarded the plane to Canada.

At this point in the interview, Mrs. Alsahoud comes in asking us to join for lunch. I looked at the watch and couldn’t believe that almost 2 hours had gone by. I saw halfway through the interview how Mrs. Alsahoud got up and went to the kitchen. But I didn’t realize that she was making a feast! It was my first time having Syrian cuisine and it was a delight! I had a Syrian version of hummus and it was quite delicious. Being an international student myself, it had been a long time since I sat with a family and ate a meal. Sitting with the Alsahouds, having food cooked by a mother’s hand, it kind of made me homesick and miss my mum .

Over lunch, we talked about life under the Assad regime and Mohammad explained how nepotism was pervasive. Bashar Al-Assad belonged to the Baath Party, a political party in Syria. He belonged to the Alawite minority . Thus these two groups got more preference. Mohammad had been in the army for 5 years. When he applied for a position in the army for which he was trained, he didn’t get it despite being one of the top candidates. The position was given to an individual from the Alawite sect. Things such as this was quite common. Merit and talent was not always valued; rather what was valued is whether you were from the Baath Party or the Alawite sect. Mohammad explained how Assad didn’t feel he was accountable to his people. During the 80s, in the middle of the night, some people came to his house and took his brother with them. The next morning, he went to the army office and asked about this. They asked him how did he know it was the army. Mohammad replied how he was in the army and knew that it was their car. The only reply the office gave was, ‘yes we took him but you don’t need to know why’. Since then, Mohammad hasn’t seen his brother.

THE JOURNEY OF A SYRIAN FAMILY: PART 2

Mohammad had been one of the first few Syrians to enter Jordan as a refugee. Refugees in Jordan require a sponsor to get out of the refugee camps and legally stay and work in Jordan. Mohammad was diligent in clarifying to me that a Jordanian sponsor was not the same as a Canadian sponsor. In Canada, when Mohammad arrived with his family, a local church and the Kelowna government together took the responsibility of supporting them in beginning their lives in this new place. This includes financial support for a year, providing support in getting a job for Mohammad, enrolling his children in school and settling his family in a house. In contrast, in Jordan a sponsor is only on paper, one whose signature is needed to allow refugees to legally stay in Jordan. Unfortunately, providing that signature is the only help sponsors will provide.

Mohammad had worked in Jordan between 1992-1993, during which time he made few friends. When he fled to Jordan in 2012, these friends in Jordan helped him get a sponsor. Furthermore, Mohammad was able to do some work by helping his friends in buying and selling things. But life was nowhere near what it had been in Syria. He was earning enough just to survive. The meager work that Mohammad did while in Jordan was not approved by the government via a work permit. One might wonder why didn’t Mohammad pursue the legal avenue?

Mohammad was one of the first fifty thousand Syrians to arrive in Jordan so he was fortunate, as back then sponsors didn’t demand money for providing their signatures. When a huge influx of refugees started coming in, Jordanian sponsors started charging a large fee for providing their signatures. On the other hand, the government of Jordan also charged for the work permit for these refugees. The work permit would allow them to live and work outside the refugee camps. Both options would enable the Syrian refugees to live in the Jordanian society, work and contribute to the economy. However, the integration of refugees was hindered by the financial cost, one which often was not feasible for those people who fled war and persecution from their country with very few belongings. Sponsors charging money was not legal, but like many other individuals such as human smugglers in the Mediterranean, everyone took an advantage of those in a dire situation.

THE JOURNEY OF A SYRIAN FAMILY: PART 1

On a Saturday morning in December, I visited the Alsahoud family. It had been eight months since they arrived in Canada, from a refugee camp in Jordan. I sat down with them to talk about their experiences, to hear first hand all that I read in the news and to see the war from their eyes.

In March 2011, residents of Homs started protesting against the oppressive regime of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. Without a care for his people, Assad ordered the law enforcement officials for a severe crackdown on these protests. This resulted in the deaths of many civilians. In March 2012, the army entered Homs. Fully prepared with its tanks and big guns, the military displayed its mighty powers and ordered that if anyone stepped out of their house they would be shot. Homs was under a siege by the very military that was supposed to protect it.

One such Homs resident was Mohammad Alsahoud. He was a cattle merchant who led a prosperous life in Syria. He has 11 children, 5 of whom were below the age of 18. He had a big house and earned well. When the Syrian army besieged Homs, Mohammad was afraid about the safety of his family because the civil war that broke out hadn’t gotten any better in the last one year. So, on March 11th he fled with the minors, to an area thirty kilometers from Homs. On April 20th, Mohammad decided to cross the border to Jordan. He didn’t know what he would do there, neither did he know how his life would be. One thing he did know was that he had to leave his motherland as it was no longer safe.