Life Status Check-in.
1. Relocate to Hong Kong – status: completed on November 25, 2011
2. Secure living quarters – status: completed on December 28, 2011
3. Started University – status: started/in progress on January 9, 2012
Hong Kong has an interesting mix of history of East meets West. Former crown colony of the British (English-Speaking) Empire melting pot with native Cantonese (Southern dialect of Chinese). With this rich diversity also comes multiple languages (sometimes a bit confusing!).
My University (which shall remain anonymous) has a website that is completely in English. When I applied for my Masters program, the only language requirement was proficiency in English. I thought, okay, that is easy, I have it in the bag! [Side Note: I am fluent in English, Proficient in Mandarin, Shanghai dialect, and Spanish] Unbeknownst to me, I was in for a big surprise! Last Monday, walking into my first class, there was some language issues/questions in the beginning of class. 5 of the 6 classes available to me are lectured in Cantonese, did I mention my Cantonese does not exist?! My only savior is that the bulk of class reading material is in English.
As with the duality nature of all things in life, diversity has its own downside. Which language trumps all? Can we use all three languages in class? My feminist professor does not like the idea of using English to lecture to a class full of Chinese. The list of issues and questions goes on and on…
From a Chinese-American or native English speaker’s perspective, I love the ease of using English in Hong Kong. Things are easy for me, it works why change it.
From a local Hong Konger’s or Cantonese speaker’s perspective, using English to teach to a class of Chinese can seem to bring back colonial times and pressure to adhere to a different tongue. Using Mandarin (or PutongHua) can mean the loss of identity for a Hong Kong person. According to a recent Washington Post article, a survey conducted by the University of Hong Kong has shown “…that the number of respondents who view themselves as Hong Kongers is more than double the number who see themselves as Chinese…”
From a mainland Chinese or Mandarin speaker’s perspective, Hong Kong is Chinese, part of China, and should try to speak Mandarin. English is ok sometimes. [ Side note: I see a lot of Nouveau riche Chinese coming to Hong Kong to shop, they are full of money to not so full in class (sorry my mainland Chinese!), which makes native Hong Kongers despise them even more. >_<]
Personally, I don’t think there is a perfect solution, only an ideal one. In order to accommodate diversity, an extra amount of empathy is needed. Everyone must take part and work to understand the other party. No one person is 100% right or 100% wrong. I am going to learn some Cantonese and improve my Mandarin. I will speak English and Mandarin slowly in class so my Hong Konger and Mainland classmates will also understand.
This upcoming Wednesday, I am meeting with my Masters Program Director to discuss my language ‘issue’. Looking forward to the outcome for a win-win solution.
I close with a street sign of Lan Kwai Fong (expat nightlife). This was founded by Hong Kong’s most famous Jew, Allan Zeman. See, I did figure out how to throw some Jewishness into this post. haha. 😉