It’s a ‘last’ name, so why does it come first for some of us?

Philippe Awouters, Unsplash

The hallmark of my thirteenth year on earth was Sisqo’s Thong Song. Not for its lowbrow lyricism or its objectification of women — it was much more complex than that: the word thong rhymes with Kwong, which is my surname. Pre-pubescent teens may not know how to calculate Pi, but they sure know a couple of hilarious rhyming words when they hear them. Their teasing was not malicious. They didn’t mock my father or draw cartoon slits for eyes as they placed these two words side by side. They just thought it was funny. And as happens when you’re embarrassed…

Where were the unofficial officials of my Chinese self?

My once leisurely strolls have become manhunts. I can spot the orange, white, and green of a 7/11, no matter how tucked away, a mile off. I know the precise location of the confectionary aisles within the major supermarkets I roam.

It’s the summer of 2019, and I have recently realised that I have not seen White Rabbits since I arrived in Hong Kong three years ago.

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When I was a child, I knew my Chinese family only through gifts. We had seen our aunties and uncles a few times, but the physical and cultural space between…

How a medieval maid, a royal teen, and an Italian bartender changed my present

Image by jiao tang from Pixabay

It was a Monday in September and her name was Gloria. She was a maid in a dusty feudal village, disgruntled about always being told what to do; namely washing pots and pans in a cellar to make a wage. Gloria tried to make decisions to improve her life, but they always ended disastrously because they were too extreme, born out of wild desperation. The entire span of her life was marred by regret, anger, and desolation. Gloria was the first past life I ever connected with.

Just over a year ago, I had never thought about past lives. Then…

Hong Kong homes are notoriously cramped, but other spaces give us what we need

Recently, I witnessed a couple arguing quietly and gesticulating wildly across a table in a busy food court. My first thought was: ‘they need this space’.

Physical space in Hong Kong is a coveted prize that can never be won. It’s no secret that it’s one of the most densely populated places in the world. We know that its density negatively impacts people’s mental health, two-thirds of the city’s 800,000 public housing flats are smaller than 430 sq ft and well-designed ‘nano-flats’ are growing increasingly popular.

While this is hardly a favourable USP for the city, the lack of space…

For those with a dual heritage, languages are about more than words

Photo: Mario Gogh

As a mixed-race person, I can just about find myself on Google. I see myself in articles and the odd documentary episode (still not enough, but that’s a bigger conversation). But as a mixed-race person who cannot speak both languages attached to both of my cultures, I’m nowhere to be found.

This is fairly disheartening for someone who, upon lamenting her painfully slow acquisition of Cantonese, is looking for reassurance; a consolatory pat on the knee or knowing nod of the head. Recently, I searched for ‘mixed race but not bilingual’, hoping for a five-page thread or the quotes of…

Walking in Hong Kong is more than just commuting

Anyone who has put foot to pavement in any of Hong Kong’s busiest areas knows that it is entirely its own experience. A bevy of collisions await you and, to conquer the pavement, you must navigate them all, from the umbrella-duck to the squeeze-by. You must exercise your patience behind the elderly and then contort your torso as you slip seamlessly past the mobile phone attached to the person in front. And then you must prepare your senses. The smell of bubbling noodle soup dancing a surprisingly harmonious pas de deux with spicy corkscrews of smoke emanating from burning incense…

For most mixed-race people, the pressure to adapt is real

Max Fleishman

At the end of last year, I went to see author Sreedhevi Iyer speak about her short story collection at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival. A member of the audience asked Iyer, an Indian-Malaysian-Australian writer, if she felt she behaved differently according to the different countries or cultures she was active in. She said that she found herself unconsciously adapting a lot, and wanted to focus on consciously ‘un-adapting’ more.

While Iyer went on to give specific, personal examples, this general notion of auto-pilot adapting is a sentiment familiar to most people of mixed race. Adjusting is defined as…

In the winter of 2014, my sister and I took a photo of my dad posing under a street sign. We were visiting Hong Kong and, after alighting the ferry on Hong Kong Island, we found ourselves stepping onto ‘Man Kwong Street’. It was one of the most brilliant things I had ever seen. It had my name in it. After a lifetime of carrying a frequently unpronounceable, misspelt, nowhere-to-be-seen surname in England, there it was, common as muck on a street sign.

It was only when I moved to Hong Kong that I realised that the novelty I’d experienced…

In Hong Kong, as a learner of the native language, I spend a large portion of my time attempting to listen to (read: eavesdrop) and converse with locals in Cantonese. My goal is to, one day, be able to think in the language, rather than go through the rigmarole of making slow mental translations and then carefully laying out each word like I’m taking an oath. While nowhere near fully developed, this new tongue is gradually taking some kind of shape.

Yet, I was still dumbfounded in April when I arrived at a hotel in Bali and thanked the driver…

When I was 18, I got my first tattoo. Perched on my left hip, where the fleshiness of the tummy starts to flatten over the pelvic muscle, is the Chinese character that means the word ‘half’. As in, half-Chinese. Get it? I had thought about getting this, what I deemed to be very clever, sign of my identity for around a year, and was certain that it would be important for the rest of my life, something I could never regret. …

Sarah Kwong

British-Chinese writer exploring culture, identity, wellness, language, and travel. Based in Hong Kong.

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