Tuesday, November 18, 2014

[Indian Culture Workshop 2013-2014] Field Trip: In Search of Indianness in Tsim Sha Tsui

The Multiculturalism in Action: Indian Cultural Workshop went on a field trip in Tsim Sha Tsui on May 28, 2014, to have an Indian day out and be immersed in Indian atmosphere.

Why Tsim Sha Tsui

Tsim Sha Tsui has been one of the centers of activities for South Asian migrants in Hong Kong. Indians tailors, grocers, restaurateurs, jewelers, traders, and their families have lived and have organized their religious activities here since the 19th century. To many Hongkongers, Indian shopkeepers and their multi-purpose retail stores in older shopping centers like Mirador and Chungking Mansions are a local institution.

First stop: Jain Temple with Guruji Nirmal Sagar

Inside the Jain Temple.
Jainism is one of the oldest religions in India. In Hong Kong, the Jains are a small community of 800. With their devotion to the religion, three temples have been established through the years, including the one on Granville Road, which we visited this time.

Guruji Nirmal Sagar gave us a brief introduction to the religion. He told us that Jainism preaches ahimsa (non-violence) and equality among all life forms. Every human is pure and has the capacity to become god. While this is similar to Buddhism, to date there are no Chinese Jains. It is because Jains do not actively seek to convert non-believers, though they would be happy to answer questions from them. The Jains believe the most important part of a person is the inside - if they believe in Jainism, they are Jain. This also explains why there is no baptism ceremony in Jainism, even for Indian believers.

During our Saturday visit, we saw quite a lot of children in the temple, and , their mothers were teaching them how to pray and to make offerings. The priest said mothers are the children’s first religious teachers; when they grow up, they will study with the priest to learn about the teachings. We also observed that the devotees would go around a small altar three times in clockwise direction. The priest explained that the three circular routes signify right knowledge, right faith, and right conduct, which are the three essential virtues for Jains. As they walk, they recognize their mortal beginning and the existence of hell, and most importantly pray for good virtues that will liberate them from the cycle of causality.

Second stop: Indian vegetarian lunch with guest Ms. Jackie Law, BA (Business Studies), 6-year Kuchipudi Dancer

Hari Om teaching kuchipudi dance in the dance studio.
We went to one of the numerous Indian restaurants in Tsim Sha TsuiThe vegetarian restaurant was filled with customers during lunchtime. We were impressed with the variety of dishes which originated from different regions of India and began to appreciate the tasty and healthy vegetarian food.

We were also grateful to have a guest to share her experience with us, as a Chinese individual learning Indian culture. Ms. Jackie Law has learned Indian classical dance for seven years. She had learnt other dance forms like hip-hop before, but she found a great sense of connection in kuchipudi dance, which she learned at a gym in Mongkok, under the guru Hari Om.

Kuchipudi is an ancient dance form that began as devotional dance dramas offered to the gods and a way to communicate Hindi mythology to the audience. Today it flourishes all over South East India. Jackie told us that doing kuchipudi was a spiritual journey - every lesson would begin with chanting and prayers, and the dance itself was like meditation.  She recounted an extraordinary episode in a dance lesson, in which she felt she entered another dimension in which there was no sense of time and space. This transcendental experience gave her a profound sense of comfort as in a religious trance.

Jackie also learned about the teacher-student relationship in Indian culture in her study of kuchipudi. She found that the identity of a student goes beyond learning how to dance, as the student is expected to take after aspects of the teacher’s worldview. For example, they would wear Indian costumes rather than gym wear in the dance class, and they should only use the ankle bells blessed by their guru. This is in line with the guru-shishya tradition in which the student gradually masters the knowledge embodied by the teacher through commitment, devotion and obedience. 

Third stop: Mirador and Chungking Mansions

Both Mirador and Chungking Mansions have long been popular shopping centers for South Asian products. On both first and second levels of the two buildings, it was easy to find retail and wholesale shops owned by Indians, Pakistanis,  and West Africans, amidst Chinese stores. We saw mobile phone and phone card stores, as well as money changers. We checked out eateries that sold various regional cuisines, including masala tea and samosa. We explored a supermarket that sold Indian supplies, from bags of roti flour and bastami rice, to Alphonso mangoes and ayurvedic toothpaste, to Diwali streamers and Maggi noodles. Different types of Indian daily necessities piled all the way up to the ceiling, and customers streamed in and out of the shop via the narrow corridors between the shelves. It is an understatement to say that these two shopping centers have become a social center for South Asian minorities. 

Jackie took us to the second floor of Mirador Mansions where her Pakistani tailor’s shop is located. She always went there to make-to-order her Indian dresses and dance costumes. The third generation owner Mr. Amjid Siddique said the store is a family business, just like many other stores in the building.

In this field trip, we came away with the feeling that Indian culture has blended into local society in different aspects like food, religion, business, and art. Indian individuals and families in Hong Kong - whether they are high-profile business tycoons, low-profile priests, IT professionals, housewives, English teachers or yoga gurus - they have made Hong Kong their home for generations. Indians are truly part of our community, and we should embrace their culture as part of our local heritage.

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