Multiculturalism in Action: Nepali Culture Workshop
Session 1: Employment for South Asians in Hong Kong: The case of the Nepalis
Guest Speaker: Prof. Leung Yuk-Ming, Lisa
|Prof. Tam giving an introduction on the situation of Nepali women in Hong Kong.|
As a sequel to the “Multiculturalism in Action: Indian Culture Workshop” in 2013-14, Prof Maria Tam organized the “Multiculturalism in Action: Nepali Culture Workshop” in the academic year 2014-15. The aim of the Workshop is to raise the awareness of cultural diversity among tertiary students, and to bring about mutual empowerment between Chinese and Nepali participants. With the theme social marginalization, discrimination, and empowerment, a series of talks and visits are planned. In the first session of the Workshop on September 27, 2014, Prof. Tam gave an introduction to the general situation of the Nepalis in Hong Kong. It was followed by a talk by Prof. Lisa Leung, Cultural Studies Department, Lingnan University. Based on her recent publication Understanding South Asian Minorities in Hong Kong (2014 Hong Kong University Press) and her research done over the years, Prof. Leung discussed issues of employment of South Asians, especially the Nepalis, in Hong Kong.
According to the Population Census, the Chinese make up 93.6% of the total population in Hong Kong. Among ethnic minorities, the biggest groups consisted of foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong, who mainly came from Indonesia and the Philippines. The Nepalis only consist 2% of the minority population , and therefore are the minority of minorities.
|Prof. Leung discussing with Workshop participants|
Yet, Nepalis helped shape Hong Kong’s colonial history. A large portion of Nepalis in Hong Kong are descendants of the Gurkhas or ex-Gurkhas. Gurkha soldiers have been fighting for the British Army7. Their reputed bravery, loyalty, and fierceness led the British colonial government to deploy them at the Chinese borders to deter increasing illegal immigrants entering Hong Kong.
The Nepalis stationed in Hong Kong until the Handover in 1997, and had resided in the barracks in Jordan, Sek Kong, Yuen Long, and Wan Chai. . After the Handover, some of the Gurkhas remained in Hong Kong as residents, while others moved to Malaysia and Britain, and some returned to Nepal. For those who stayed in Hong Kong, most were faced with a lack of upward social mobility, because with very limited Chinese language proficiency and other job-related skills, a lot of ex-Gurkhas could only find semi-skilled or non-skilled work. Because of their military background, they were commonly employed as security guards, watchmen e and construction workers. Nepali women, on the other hand, mostly worked in the catering and hospitality sector because of a perceived sexual division of labor..
|Prof . Leung receiving a souvenir from Prof. Tam|
Some Nepalis started their own businesses, mostly in the Yau Tsim Mong area, especially in Jordan and Tsim Sha Tsui. An interesting observation is that in these shops the owners usually stayed in the store in most of the opening hours, and on the name plaques of the store one usually finds the Nepali name and phone number of the store. These measures were intended to assure customers that the store was owned by a Nepali, and the goods were authentically ethnic. Other than grocery stores, computer cafés and beauty/hair salons were also popular business choices. In one of the computer cafés in Jordan where Prof. Leung visited for her field work, she found that it was also a nursery where Nepali parents would drop off their kids when they went to work. Prof. Leung suggested that these commercial spaces indeed served multiple purposes. This reflect how commercial spaces were also ethnic communal spaces, allowing the Nepalis in diaspora to find a sense of belonging and security.