“你返香港呀？” or “你幾時返香港呀？”
Translation: “You’re going back to Hong Kong?” or “When are you going back to Hong Kong?”
Both are questions I have been getting from my family ever since I announced my acceptance to Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). They’re questions that make me feel both excited and nervous for the trip.
I’ve always thought it funny that they say “going back” to HK instead of just “going” to HK because I’ve never actually been to HK, outside of stopping at the airport to wait for a connecting flight to Malaysia. This ironic situation is actually an accurate representation of my complicated relationship and feelings for my dad’s hometown.
I have a special connection to HK because my dad immigrated from there to New York as a teenager. Because my dad speaks limited English and mainly speaks Cantonese (the most popular dialect among HK locals), I also speak Cantonese. Fun fact: Cantonese was actually my first language and I had to go to ESL (English as a Second Language program) through my first few years of elementary school. I speak with confidence in Cantonese. I also grew up watching TVB, the cantonese version of Doraemon (or Ding Dong), and McDull. Whether they are accurate portrayals of real HK life or not, those TVB dramas and animated shows are where I learned about HK culture. It’s where I learned about the rough, hilarious way that Hong Kongese speak (their dialogues are littered with puns). It’s where I was first exposed to Canto-pop. It’s where I turned to in order to understand my heritage a little better.
But at the same time, I feel very disconnected from HK because I was born in America. There’s a special name my family calls me, my siblings, my cousins, and other American Born Chinese (ABCs): 竹升 (jook sing). It’s used to indicate that we are not fully part of Chinese culture or American culture. We have one foot planted on each side and do not truly belong anywhere. To top it off, I did not grow up with my dad’s side of the family, but with my mom’s side of the family, who are from Malaysia. My HK roots have been diluted so much with both American and Malaysian influence that I don’t have as strong an identity in HK culture. It makes me nervous about how I will fit in at a place I should supposedly belong to, but don’t completely understand.
However, I think that nervousness makes me feel even more excited to explore my dad’s home. It makes me all the more excited to put together the puzzle of my heritage, stand back for a moment, and truly understand my family’s background. I’m eager to practice my Cantonese with locals and push the boundaries of my language skills, as well as expand my vocabulary. I’m eager to find out whether true local HK life is similar to that of the characters in TVB dramas.
When I get back home in a few months, maybe I’ll have some new things about HK to talk to my dad about. Maybe I’ll be able to form clever puns in Cantonese and succeed in making my dad laugh at them. Maybe I’ll feel more comfortable writing “Fluent” next to Cantonese on my resume. Maybe HK will finally feel like another home to me, just as America and Malaysia already seem to be.
For now, I’ll continue to attempt to pack my life away into a suitcase and bask in my beautiful, mixed feelings for the place I already have an unconditional love for.