Hello! My name is Andy Wu and I am a 2021-2022 Gilman Alumni Ambassador from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I graduated from Lehigh University in 2020 with a degree in Finance and Business Information Systems. As a Gilman Scholar, I studied abroad in Hong Kong in Spring 2019 on a semester exchange at The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
Reconnecting with my uncle’s family, who has resided in Hong Kong for many decades, was an integral part of my experience abroad.
Growing up in a family from the Southeastern coast of China, I never questioned what I was led to believe about Hong Kong, a former British colonial port city, supposedly belonging to China. That was what I was told to believe even a week prior to my departure for Hong Kong. My dad reinforced this persistently over the dinner table before I left for Hong Kong. Well aware of Hong Kong’s complex political history, I stepped out of Hong Kong International Airport in January of 2019 and made sure I kept this question in my mind for the entire semester: are Hongkongers actually Chinese?
During my first few weeks, lost in my new home, I naively believed my father’s words. While finding myself lost in Tsim Sha Tsui trying to set up my phone plan, I unhesitantly used my Mandarin Chinese, but soon found out that was scorned upon. To my dismay, most of the Hongkongers were communicating using the Cantonese dialect, and signs were in traditional Chinese characters. This was what I observed while exploring the city, and I was happy to know how prevalent English was in all of the street signs and restaurant menus. A month later, I learned about the afternoon tea menu that my university offers daily around 3 pm, a tradition that was adopted from the British. As a matter of fact, some of the foods are a fusion of Eastern and Western flavors: from the macaroni soup with fried egg and spam I had for breakfast, to the egg tart inspired by the British custard tart I had for dessert, and the baked pork chop rice topped with melted cheese and tomato sauce that I had for dinner. It is truly amazing how everywhere I stepped in Hong Kong that the city has integrated the East and the West quite compactly.
My friends and I enjoyed Cantonese Wonton Noodle Soup for dinner near Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong.
Throughout the semester, I purposefully enrolled in a course that highlighted a deeper sociological understanding of contemporary Hong Kong. I became more aware of the unique Hong Kong identity, dubbed “Heunggongyahn” (香港人), especially among younger Hongkongers, and how their distinctive cultural values (e.g. the Lion Rock Spirit and politeness) set them apart from the Mainland Chinese. I also learned about the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement and the Umbrella Movement, which are political movements advocating the rise of the Hong Kong identity and less of a Chinese identity. Outside of the classroom, I attested to what I was exposed to in the classroom by examining how disparate the university’s local students, born and raised in Hong Kong, were from those raised native to Mainland China. I soon began to realize that this complicated view of Hong Kong identity is prevalent even across the other half of the hemisphere and was a very interesting theme to experience with my firsthand view of the matter.
In a microcosmic sense, Hong Kong’s strong sense of nationalism made me realize the importance of self-confidence in my own identity. Hong Kong’s will to debunk the generalization that promotes Hong Kong as a part of China gave me a sense of purpose; Similarly, I should hold onto the values and mentalities that strongly distinguish me from others. If society tries to label me, I should not force myself into that stereotype but should instead live a life that uniquely defines who I am.
Before I returned home to the United States, I had a final lunch with a Hong Kong student while discussing what will happen when Hong Kong’s one country, two systems of noninterference from China, expires in 2047. The answer I received was that no one knows, but Hongkongers are living day-to-day worried about this day approaching. Unexpectedly, a week after I left in June of 2019, I was sitting at my internship desk and overheard other people talking about the Hong Kong protests in protection of their freedoms from China. The Gilman Scholarship evidently gave me the opportunity to explore a place of unique culture and identity, which left me with the gift of being able to explain Hong Kong’s history and modern society to the people in my community.
A peaceful sunset view of Central District, Hong Kong, taken in May of 2019 (photo by Andy Wu)