“Where are you from?”
“Hmm…it’s hard to say; I can simply say I am from Guangdong Province: I was born in Hong Kong and stayed in Shenzhen for twelve years. Later, since my father was sent to work in Guangzhou, my whole family moved to Guangzhou and then I spent my middle school and high school time in Guangzhou….”
“Where are you from?” is a simple and common question that people usually ask when they first meet. While others simply come up with the name of a city without hesitation, every time I am asked that question about origins, I would think over which city to say: Hong Kong, Shenzhen, or Guangzhou, and explain a few sentences about my complex background, However, since I grew up and spent most of my life in the mainland of China, I became a person speaking only Mandarin.
Recently when I went to Hong Kong, I found that discrimination among people from different regions has become more severe. Hong Kong citizens always consider people who speak Mandarin or Chinese with accents bad-mannered and inferior to themselves, and the only thing mainland Chinese do in Hong Kong is shopping. Therefore, if local people believe someone is from the mainland because of the language they speak, they will speak to these people in a less polite way and say something like, “There are too many people from the mainland of China coming to Hong Kong now; they are disturbing our normal pace.”
This stereotype of the mainland Chinese reminds me of my experience in Hong Kong several months ago. My mother and I decided to go to our hotel by taxi since it’s more convenient. In the taxi, my mother told the taxi driver the hotel name where we were staying along with the names of the street and district. However, the taxi driver responded, “If you don't think taxi drivers in Hong Kong know the hotel and need to drive to the hotel according to the names of the street and district, you should not take a taxi.” Obviously, Hong Kong citizens will not tell the driver about the street names of their destination, and my mother’s Cantonese accents are slightly different from that of Hong Kong citizens. Because of the way we behave and talk, the taxi driver believed that we were from the mainland China. Then, he began his complaint about Mainland Chinese:
“Those people are crazy! They always buy several handbags and a large amount of milk powder for their relatives in Mainland. Some people even resell them at a higher price to other mainland Chinese….”
“In the shopping malls, they are disturbing our public place! So rude.”
However, another time, my mother and I did not have luggage with us and dressed up more elegantly, and the Taxi driver saw that we had Hong Kong Identity Cards and therefore knew that we were Hong Kong citizens. He started asking about our plans on Saturday. After he knew that we were going to take the ACT test and go abroad for undergraduate education, he told us that his daughter also planned to go abroad at the same time as us and she’s also struggling with the ACT and TOEFL. At the end, he wished us best luck on the ACT test and offers from our dream schools.
People judge each other according to the language they speak. If one speaks other than Cantonese or speaks Cantonese with an accent that is slightly different from Hong Kong people, he or she will be considered as a the mainland Chinese with no doubt. As long as people are considered as coming from the mainland, the treatments from Hong Kong locals will have large differences. Comparing these two experiences, I realized the severe discrimination among Hong Kong citizens against Mainland Chinese. With a Hong Kong Identity, I feel apologetic for the discrimination in that Hong Kong citizens and the mainland Chinese ought to complement each other and build up harmonious relationship between each other as all of them are Chinese. On the contrary, simply because I live in Mainland China for most of my life, I am also discriminated by the locals in Hong Kong; I feel hurt about the judgment and discrimination.
One day on the way back to Guangzhou, my family and I were on the Guangzhou-Kowloon Through Train. Then, a local woman got on and wanted to find a seat. However, there were many passengers on the train, even in the first class; she could not find any seat. At that time, I was talking about a TV series with my younger sister, Jenny. We spoke in Mandarin, so the woman learned that we were from the Mainland according to the way we talked and how we dressed up. The stereotype that Mainland Chinese always do not buy tickets for their children to save money made the woman feel superior to us. Then, she came to my mother and asked, “Have you bought special tickets for the first class for your children?” Surprisingly, my mother, who could speak in standard Cantonese, answered confidently in Mandarin, “Yes.” The woman then asked disdainfully, “All of them? I don't think Mainland Chinese will buy tickets for their children. Their parents are always mean.” We ignored her, so she came to other families who speak Mandarin and asked whether they bought tickets for all family members. My mother’s response encouraged me to fight against the discrimination and be confident when speaking Chinese.
Because of the severe discrimination and stereotype against Mandarin speakers, I refused to talk with local people in Hong Kong at first. When my mother asked me to buy something in Hong Kong supermarkets, I would feel embarrassed when speaking weird Cantonese or Mandarin to them. However, I finally realized that we should try to go against the discrimination by ignoring those Hong Kong citizens who feel superior to me. As my mother always said, “Don’t feel inferior than the local people. You should just speak Mandarin to them and let them know we are equal.”
“Where are you from?”
Now, I can confidently answer this question in Mandarin. “I am from Mainland China.”