“Moving to the UK I was sometimes told to ‘just talk’ due to my Aussie-American hybrid accent.” – Louise Coulcher
“Hey Weeze, where are you from?”
“Born and educated in HK & then the UK. My Dad’s a Londoner and my Mum fled WWII Latvia to Britain, and I now have Latvian citizenship as well, and HKPR.” Greedy huh?
I’d actually answer, “I live in London,” leaving it fairly ambiguous.
Moving to the UK I was sometimes told to ‘just talk’ due to my Aussie-American hybrid accent. Despite technically being British, and feeling somewhat patriotic, when I moved there – all of this vanished. I felt and sounded foreign.
The first time someone questioned my HK identity, I was caught by surprise. It was the only place I’d lived. I’d been away a couple of months, at school. This wasn’t my home! “Where are you really from?” We then argued as he tried to tell me I was English, from England.
Perhaps with the exception of London I always felt like a foreigner in the UK, more at home walking around Nairobi or Bangkok than Bristol or other neighboring European cities, where I looked more at home.
Being a TCK is at its simplest, to me, growing up with experiences outside of your parents’ culture. I don’t remember learning to use chopsticks, but do the first time I ate big British chips. I knew more about Buddhism than Christianity and still prefer public squatting toilets!
In HK the experiences are magnified because it’s a very international society in which we all share our different traditions. The Western culture I was mainly exposed to wasn’t even British, but American and Australian! We don’t have extended family, so major celebrations are with family friends. The normal to us is abnormal to most. We can sound annoying explaining our backgrounds, experiences, with enthusiasm, or just facts, mistaken for showing off.
“I’m tall, blonde, busty, with piercings and tattoos.”
Home is a feeling of belonging. Feeling at peace in my own skin in my surroundings. HK is so chaotic and contrasting, but to me, it all makes perfect sense. When I get lost in HK, I don’t feel lost. It’s forced me to be comfortable with being different. I’m tall, blonde, busty, with piercings and tattoos. I’m used to being stared at, but that’s okay. Despite being a conservative society I generally find people here friendlier than other more liberal cosmopolitan cities. Still, it was weird having a teenager on the MTR taking a ‘secret’ selfie with me, trying and failing to be subtle about it!!
Despite being utterly blessed with my life circumstances I’ve wrestled with my own identity for years. Others telling me ‘you ARE British’ when emotionally I don’t feel it. Many Chinese HK people don’t want me to be one of ‘theirs’ either. I feel guilty that I wasn’t taught Cantonese. Trying to justify that a 6 year old not asking for extra lessons in a system that didn’t promote Cantonese learning does not make me a bad person who doesn’t care, or belong. This year I started learning Latvian, and finally start Cantonese in a few weeks.
Growing up exposed to poverty; the corrugated iron shanty towns, the lepers, reading about Domestic Helper abuse, contrasting vastly with the extreme wealth I also saw, as a child I found confusing, and ultimately wrong. This, and my family background led me into being a Human Rights advocate and activist. Though often emotionally difficult, you also see the absolute best in people; inspiration, hope, unbelievable kindness.
I moved back to Hong Kong last month feeling nervous. I may no longer feel at home but my worries were misplaced. I spend my spare time now exploring and travelling and writing about my adventures.
Be part of #TCpeople:
To share your thoughts on what it means to be Third Culture – contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org