For one night in July, I’ll never forget. It was a warm, summer’s night, and the air was vibrant with excitement as people poured into the streets to party and laugh. There was a carnival-like atmosphere in the air, as residents from all over the world came together in the city that never sleeps.
At around 12:30 a.m., I heard a commotion outside and saw a man running towards me. As he passed, I noticed something peculiar- he was wearing an expensive-looking suit, but his shirt was torn and his tie was askew. At the time, I was living on my own in Hong Kong, and although I wasn’t particularly scared, for some reason I felt worried. It was instinctive- that someone was breaking into my house. I grabbed my bag and, with my heart in my throat, ran to the terrace to escape. There, I looked out over the city and watched as the man in the suit ran away.
I didn’t see his face, but I’ll never forget that silver suit and how it reeked of cigarettes.
It was at that moment that I realized it wasn’t a home invasion. It was a robbery. Why would someone want to rob me? I wondered. I quickly considered the reasons as they came to mind. Maybe it was because I was a woman. Maybe they didn’t like the way I dressed. But there was also the possibility that it could be because of my race. I’m Chinese, and although I was born and raised in Hong Kong, I have dark skin. Does that matter? Maybe not, I thought, but it crossed my mind nonetheless.
In the past, the Chinese community in Hong Kong has experienced a string of robberies, often committed by Japanese and Korean gangs. These incidents have become so frequent that the government has begun warning residents to be on the look out for suspicious individuals and vehicles. They urged people to call the police if they see anything suspicious.
Unfortunately, as a result of the MTR strike which essentially shut down the entire rail network the following day, many people were left stranded, with no way to get to work or school. As it happened, my university was among the institutions which remained closed due to the strike, and I found myself unable to attend class that day. It was as if the school had sentenced me to probation, banning me from stepping foot outside my home without an escort for the remainder of the term. My crime? Not attending class. Class was canceled due to the strike, and I was labeled a felon.
Although nothing could replace the experience of walking to class each day with my headphones on, learning Spanish, or traveling to Portugal for a summer vacation, the thrill of freedom, particularly for people living under house arrest, was exhilarating. It was the first time in over a year that I had gone out for fun, and it felt great.
It was around this time that I began to research the issue of crime in Hong Kong. I wanted to better understand what was motivating these individuals to commit these offenses, so I could take appropriate measures to prevent my own robbery. It didn’t take long to discover that these crimes are mostly committed by the Japanese and Korean communities, and there were several factors which likely contributed to this. First, there are more Asian immigrants in Hong Kong than anywhere else in the world, and many of them arrive with little to no education. This makes them highly desirable as a labor force, but it also puts them at the mercy of employers, who can and do discriminate against them based on their race. Next, many of these immigrants are from less affluent societies, where honor and respect are highly valued. This, in turn, leads them to feel that their own culture is undervalued in the society around them. This can cause them to behave in ways which seem to contradict their own culture. For example, it is well known that Korean men commit many crimes against other men, especially when under the influence of alcohol. In some cases, they have even killed people. However, in their own culture, a man is supposed to be the strong, dominant figure in his family, and it is frowned upon for women to go against their norms. This can lead them to commit robberies, either to uphold their own culture or to assert their independence.
In my own case, it was undoubtedly the culture clash which fueled my robber. At the time, I didn’t realize it, but my clothes had become a source of tension between my family and me. My parents had immigrated to Hong Kong from China when I was young, and although they tried their best to integrate, there were times when I would come home from school and find them arguing about my wardrobe. It was clear that my fashionable, yet conservative, styles were upsetting them. They didn’t want me to stand out in the community, and they certainly didn’t want anyone to know that they were raising a confident, modern-thinking daughter.
Growing up in Hong Kong, I had always felt confused about my identity. Being Chinese wasn’t easy; it was a culture which had been shaped by periods of intense turbulence and political instability. Even during my formative years, I felt lost, not knowing what exactly it was that Chinese people were trying to keep hold of. Was it their culture? Their language? Their gods? It wasn’t until I began to find my way in the world that I started to understand what it meant to be Chinese. Of course, it still wasn’t easy- being a confident, modern-thinking Chinese woman is something which many people in Hong Kong still find difficult to accept, let alone embrace. But at least now, I knew where I stood. It hadn’t been easy to find my way, but now that I did, it felt great.