Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Those mainland Chinese - Hong Kong

View of Hong Kong skyline from Tsim Sha Tsui
M is about to complete a Master in Educational studies at a famous Hong Kong University. She is from the People's Republic of China, we've know each other for years. She a nice, sweet, extremely well-mannered girl. Nothing to do with the stereotypical Chinese who expectorate everywhere, clean their ears, nose or something else in public, chew seeds and radishes while they're sitting next to you, sucking noisily and spitting out broken shells and crushed fibers. However, since she came to Hong Kong, that stereotype has never stopped frustrating, embarrassing and humiliate her for a moment. 
Sometimes at a shop after she asks the second question about the product she intends to purchase the salesperson will tell her that "this is not mainland China, this is Hong Kong!" She tells me that the Chinese immigrants are accused of "stealing" job positions that should actually be given to the local citizens or - and this is something that directly involves her - master or doctorate posts at the best universities. She is paying for her studies, much more than what a local would by the way, and she finds this type of generalized accusations rather irritating. 
We are taking a walk in Kowloon and when we get to a junction as there are no approaching vehicles I go ahead and cross the road, as I always do, regardless of what the traffic light color is.
I have to say that to even that up I normally adopt the opposite technique as well: in case the light is green I don't just start walking carelessly but I first verify that there are no crazy motorbike riders who don't give a damn about the red light and are eager to draw a life size sketch of me on the asphalt. 
I urge her to follow me but she stops by the curb and waits for the green light: while I'm looking at her I can't tell exactly whether she reminds me more of an elegant old time well-groomed lady or of a stubborn mule (I mean the attitude, not the looks of course...). Later on she explains me that if someone from here were to see her and find out that she is from mainland China they would fall back on the old stereotype and accuse her of being a rude uncivilized immigrant, insulting her outright or in a subtler way. 
A few days later in Guangzhou - already in mainland China that is - Y, a girl who helped me buy a Sim card and find my way to the hotel when I arrived, tells me that similar frictions also exist between Chinese cities, and even more between cities and countryside. The citizens of Guangzhou and Shanghai, two very industrialized, developed and - if compared with the rest of the country - extremely rich cities, start to show symptoms of irritation and intolerance against the immigrants from the poorer provinces. They can be farmers transformed by means of a swift theater-dressing-room-trick to factory workers - those same people who help the advanced provinces getting rich by working in their factories -, university graduates who work in the offices, students or teachers. Perhaps only party members and successful businessmen are spared these manifestations of hatred, for different yet obvious reasons. 
I often noticed that people - no matter where they come from - tend to be jealous not only of what they love or desire but of their problems and misadventures as well, trying to make them their own and no one else's. It's the "...you can't even imagine what happened to me..." kind of attitude. In this case at least, though, we're talking about very natural dynamics and reactions, common to all human beings and not specific to a particular geographical area. 
I tell both the girls that if a Swiss guy saw me jaywalking and came to know that I am Italian...god knows what he would think or say. That even in Italy northerners and southerners have been mocking, insulting and mistrusting each other for decades. That the same thing can happen even within the same region. People from Venice used to (and maybe still do) refer to the rest of the Veneto region with the term "campagna", which means countryside, even if they were talking about the historical centers of Verona (the city of the famous Roman arena, where Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet was based), Padova (a city with a 800-year-old university, where Galileo Galilei, Petrarca, Dante and Shakespeare lived for a while) and Vicenza (the city where some of the best Palladian villas can be found). There is nothing to do: careless of history, art, architecture, science and illustrious people they keep dismissing as inferior countryside any place that lies beyond their beloved laguna. And it can even happen within the same province: after my family moved from the city to a smaller town just ten kilometers away, for a few months my schoolmates kept referring to me as "the guy from Padova", while they were from Padova as well, in the broad sense of the word. As if I had been a Newyorker, a Londoner or a Parisienne. Or maybe, why not, a Hongkongese.  

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