by Qiu Zihang Hannah (APMM Intern)
*** English text follows Chinese
Understanding the differences between migration and travel is necessary for seeing the whole picture of our society. Tourists can choose to do what they like during several days’ travel and see it as the break from their usual lives. They can choose to go home and never come again if they feel uncomfortable on their trip. However, migrants have to live their lives in Hong Kong without so many choices. Hong Kong is far more than office buildings in Central and shopping malls in Causeway Bay.
I always feel lucky to have the opportunity to come to Hong Kong to study, which has given me totally different life experiences compared to my 18 years in Mainland China. These two years in Hong Kong have not just been about studying, since I have also needed to adjust to the environment here. I remember the first six months I spent in Hong Kong, which was really not a pleasant experience. Although it helped me grow up a lot, I also faced many difficulties. I was afraid of speaking Mandarin because of the locals’ unfriendly attitude toward Mainlanders in 2014 during Occupy Central, but I could not understand Cantonese, and English is not always useful here. I did not know where to get off the minibus and did not understand the “common laws” of daily life. My life was a mess at that time.
But I would not consider myself the same as migrant workers, not only because I am not really a foreign migrant, but also because my coming to Hong Kong was a free choice rather than a forced decision. I do not need to worry about my rights being infringed, since at least my university gives me legal and proper status in Hong Kong (I hope they do not regret it). I also have my parents and family for support, both spiritual and material. For migrant workers, life in Hong Kong is like fighting for life without any freedom of movement, and they usually have to bear financial pressure from family members. The position of migrant workers means they may have no choice but to bear unfair treatment and violations of their human rights.
That is the attitude I had before the first time I made contact with migrants personally, mostly sympathy and pity. But what they showed me was really a surprise—they are happy, full of energy and optimistic about life. Or, rather, they are trying to make themselves happy in this foreign region. I saw the long queue for sending remittances, cheap markets on the street, as well as dancing and singing in celebratory festivals, shared happiness between friends and couples.
I remember the words once said to me: “Don’t complain that you are always forced to do something—you were forced into this world from the beginning, since no one asked for your opinion before your mother gave birth to you.” And these words impressed me again when I saw migrant workers gathering and having fun together. Life is not easy for anyone, and migrant workers face challenges and pleasures just as local Hong Kong people do. It is pointless to make comparisons and feel pity for these hard-working workers, because every social group leads their own lives, experiencing the happiness and sorrow that comes to all the diverse members of society. What we should do is to fight for a more tolerant society so that they can earn their lives here freely.
Migrant workers are a group that is to some extent marginalized by society, and a misunderstanding of them such as I had is definitely not a single case. As a migrant, I have experienced culture shock as a new arrival, but to be honest, what I needed to care about were trivial details, not serious life pressure. For migrant workers, life pressure is the shadow they always see when they look up. They cannot bear the consequences of loss and change. In my opinion, the crucial thing for society in terms of migrant workers is to create a free, tolerant and open environment in which they can fight for their rights and livelihoods. Migrant workers are human beings who know how to work hard and build better lives for themselves. We can see they have happiness and sorrow as other people do, as long as we give them the chance to express themselves, and as long as we look upon them with patience.