The first month and being a second generation immigrant

It is the 3rd of August. Today marks one month that I have been away from home. I thought of opening with, ‘Today marks one month that I have been in Europe,’ but I think the former is more significant (or is it?) I am not particularly homesick, but exhausted. The last few days have involved more sleep and earlier nights, which has been welcomed. I will depart for Greece on the 6th, but I foresee a much more relaxed version of travel, as compared with the 3 weeks in Western Europe and 12 days in Turkey. Athens may involve free walking tours, photography tour, whilst Naxos and Santorini will involve beaches and not much else, perhaps. I think 6 and a half weeks is a decent time for travel for a first time in Europe. At moments it felt very rushed, but this means for better planning and selection (of places, people, destinations, activities) in the future. Returning to London for a day was a good decision. I felt like I connected with the place more and could definitely see myself living there for 4 months. If I become accustomed to the pound and the weather simultaneously, it may well be a place where I consider working in the future, perhaps. 

I had the pleasure of meeting a friend of a friend who recently moved to London for work, from Sydney. Throughout the conversation, the prospect of working in the financial capitals of London, Hong Kong or New York (or Sydney) came about. As a Chinese Malaysian with no Chinese (Cantonese or otherwise), he mentioned that it would be impossible for him to work in Hong Kong, because the locals would see him as a Chinese person and assume he was apt in Cantonese, Mandarin and lucid in his Chinese writing. Ah – the feels! Kind of. Not really. But his experience resounded with me. Being a second generation immigrant going back to your ‘motherland’ (where your mother came from) is a unique experience that cannot be fully experienced except by being one. Jen from YouTube (American-born Korean Makeup artist from YouTube – link here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6QVWprUfEbg) details her experience and it is strikingly similar for all second generation immigrants. Anyway. The thing is, I could work in Hong Kong. My Cantonese is native, I would say I have a ‘professional’ level of written fluency and given 3 months I could have fluent Mandarin too, I think (you know, personal tutor everyday and trip to Taiwan for 3 weeks, that kind of thing). I had a conversation with my mother about a week before I left about the prospect of working and living in Hong Kong again. I questioned her, ‘Well if it was good to be there, then why would you come here?’ She responded, ‘It is completely different for you. You have higher education, some amount of wealth and opportunities. We had none of that! If you go back now, you will be at the top of the food chain – we were at the bottom,’ she said. There was truth in what she was saying. Obviously there would be a degree of trouble assimilating, somewhat, but I think I could meld into Hong Kong society fairly well. You just have to let go of all your Western luxuries like space, clean air, clean water and all that. Basically just stop being entitled and do as the locals do. On second thoughts of working in Hong Kong, I was reminded of the work culture there. Paper pushers, graphic designers… everyone in the ‘food chain’ was working long hours. In the office, it wasn’t uncommon for people to leave past 10 every night. But this was Hong Kong and this was the norm there. So, what if I was plunged into a quant job in Hong Kong – the work culture would be unimaginable. The inequality in Hong Kong makes me think twice about whether I want to return to the so-called ‘top of the food chain’ my mother had described, after seeing cage houses and people who can only afford boxes of rice for all their meals. 

In my parents’ generation, those at the bottom of the food chain had a choice to sink or swim. Most of them paddled out to other parts of the world, seeking calmer seas. It was a case of, ‘If you can’t beat them, join them.’ I think this saying has become more and more prominent in my way of thinking, recently. If you aren’t as X as Y, then just do your best to embody them, to be like them, to do the things they do. Social psychology tells us that this form of pretending actually turns into reality over time. However, unlike laughing whilst one is depressed to actually lift one’s spirits, mimicking or joining ‘them’ could be considered shifting one’s identity. People don’t like change, but I think it is one of the most natural things. People have evolved to be great adapters and this is also reflected in the way people perceive you. ‘You’ve changed,’ is a rather redundant phrase, isn’t it? ‘You haven’t changed at all,’ is a much more telling one. It means since the last time this person saw you, you have not progressed yourself, forwarded yourself, improved yourself. Sure, change isn’t always positive, but I think sometimes stagnation in one’s state, way of thinking, opinion can be just as detrimental.

I think that’s enough rambling for one night. Time for dinner!

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