Glass ceilings

/ Thursday, 2 November 2017 /

I was having lunch with my colleagues this afternoon at Quay Bar, which overlooks Customs House in Circular Quay. We were discussing our plans for Christmas and New Years over our Friday schnitzel and beers.  One workmate mentioned her plans to go up coast with her family,  another mentioned her trip to Tasmania.  I said I was returning to Hong Kong to visit my aunt and sightsee, coupled with a short trip to Macau.

Unexpectedly, one of my colleagues mentioned that he really enjoyed Hong Kong and asked whether I had swum near Victoria Harbour. I said I hadn't. I thought it about it some more, and realised that it was a very strange question for a tourist to ask.  I asked if he had, to which he replied he had done so many times.

Turns out my colleague had grown up on Hong Kong, and his family were ex-pats from Australia.
He said that he lived in Discovery Bay as a child, to which my other friend immediately exclaimed was where her university friend lived (by this time I was thinking my god, the sons and daughters of ex-pats are everywhere). She then continued to recount her visit to Discovery Bay, getting off the ferry and being alarmed by the complete cultural shift. Her exact words were "suddenly there were all these white women with prams, and kids in ballet costumes".  I laughed it off at the time, but reflecting on it now (several hours after lunch), I can't help but feel the significance of this all.

My parents grew up in an era in Hong Kong where the British had control over its governance. It also meant there was a significant divide (both cultural and socio-economical) between ex-pats who lived in exclusive, affluent suburbs near Victoria Peak or in isolated communities in Discovery Bay. My mum and her sister grew up in poor suburbs of Macau during Portuguese occupation, before relocating to Hong Kong in her early childhood. Her sister lived for a few months in the infamous maze/ slum that was Kowloon Walled City, before it was demolished in the mid 1980s. Similarly, my dad grew up in Guangzhou and moved to Kowloon Island with his family in his teens. He re-sat the notoriously difficult Hong Kong university entrance exams three times before being accepted into his degree. My mum was the first person in her family to obtain a tertiary education. She finished high school in night classes, whilst working in a manufacturing factory.

My parents have endured so much to close the gap between them and us, and breach that glass ceiling between the haves and have-nots within one generation. It continues to amaze me that I can relate to, and largely enjoy, the same privileges as the sons and daughters of former Hong Kong expats, who honestly had it all. I can only thank two people in my life, who I don't nearly thank enough.


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