Yesterday, we went to Central, and for the first time, I didn't feel like a tourist on Hong Kong Island, even though, we were there to do kind of touristy things, which was to have a drink and an appetizer (in my case, a Brandy Alexander and a Lobster bisque, on a whim; both seemed fitting, but ultimately, disappointing and too rich) at Jimmy's Kitchen, one of the oldest restaurants in Hong Kong. For dinner, we headed to Mak's Noodle House, a much blogged-about place for *the* bowl of wonton noodles, which were delicious.
But it was so familiar. We swiftly passed Exit D, wound up around Pedder Street, weaved our way past the tourists and cell phone amblers, barely glanced around at the winding roads and glass buildings that surrounded us. It was hot, we were hungry; just two people, cutting across Queen's Rd. Central, going up Wyndham.
I've heard people say that it's hard to truly know a place until you've lived there; I can't say yet that I truly know Hong Kong or ever will, but I do live here. We have a page of shiny stamps from a grocery chain that gives us a fairly accurate idea of how much money we've spent there (a lot); we've moved twice, and the scents and flavours I once found comforting in a nostalgic way--Tiger Balm; pineapple on pizza--are now daily occurrence, a future sensorial anchor to the time spent abroad.
As someone who has spent a lot of time and words trying to describe a certain first-generation Chinese-Canadian experience, I've surprisingly, and happily, slipped into a state of forgetting my identity. I physically look like almost everyone around me. On the MTR on my way home, everyone's face has a distinct sheen from the heat, humidity and naturally occurring sebum, a sheen that I used to combat every day in the office washroom with powders and oil-absorbing sheets back home. Hairdressers know how to cut my hair. When I meet a new person and they find out that I'm from Canada, they'll say something like, "Ah, so what made you come back?" Often, they'll tell me about their own move from the US, or Britain, or Australia. I've never lived here before, but, like them, I've come back.
In North America, the effects of diaspora are everywhere, and it starts at an early age: immigrants seek out other immigrants, either in church communities or in neighbourhood pockets; immigrant kids seek out other immigrant kids, because they're lumped together or just find comfort in shared experience. I love my community back home, and I've long accepted that one of the truest forms of a Canadian Identity was, as much as that hockey-stick wielding, beer-swilling, toque-wearing winter warrior, also a hyphenated second-or-first generation or mixed ethnic minority: wrapped in an Aritzia hoodie, bubble tea in hand. It's a frequent theme in almost every form of popular Canadian art, from Wayson Choy to Kim's Convenience: the immigrant struggle, the first-generation isolation.
But I had always thought the diaspora only happened to us; I never thought that living in Hong Kong, I would be able to see that signs of the diaspora from the other side. And yet, most of the people I've met have relatives or family friends who have moved to North America. I've traded stories with a HK-born-and-raised colleague about our experiences working in shitty Chinese fast food joints, serving up chicken balls and red sauce--him for a summer in Florida, my first job at the Ex. I once met a cab driver who spends half the year in Vancouver with his kids, and the other half driving a cab in Hong Kong. I have friends who moved away for a few years in childhood and came back. There are countless other instances, through all the different waves of immigrations out. And the waves of us who would later come back, not to the home we know, but to the land we have tenuous claim to because at one point, years or generations ago, someone had to leave in order for us to return.
If I am to imagine a series of concentric circles around myself and what I would label as my ethnic identity, ranging from HUMAN, ASIAN, CHINESE, CANADIAN, CHINESE-CANADIAN/NORTH AMERICAN, and so forth, I've never felt a snugger bubble. It makes me feel connected in a way I can forget.
That, and the fact that I no longer have to be ashamed of having coarse hair and a shiny face. And if that's still not enough, at least I can get around Central without looking like a wide-eyed idiot (most of the time).