As I prepare to renew my acquaintance with my home country, India, I have a niggling doubt that my reaction is veering towards Betty Mullard’s* sentiments of loss or sadness or rancour, as described by Paul Theroux in ‘Kowloon Tong’ .
Betty was leaving Hong Kong at the time of the 1997 handover of Hong Kong, an event she refers to as a “Chinese Take-Away” and she refused to participate in any of its shenanigans. To her the handover symbolised loss of a comfortable life style, the cottage on the Peak, the days spent at Happy Valley racecourse, the steady income from the garment factory bound together by a peevish feeling of superiority.
To me, leaving Hong Kong is missing out on the mundane and the beautiful: the restaurant roulette of new replacing old in quick moves, theatres, parties, pubs and sightseeing. Of meeting with people from different social strata, traditions through festivals, the daily lives of acquaintances and friends, their joys and sorrows. Most important, the change in my pre-conceived notion of women of China/Hong Kong as pliant, dutiful, winsome with porcelain skins and svelte figures, notions based on pictures and newspaper and magazine articles.
Face to face with them in Hong Kong, and here were no paper tigers but women of substance, interested in carving a niche for themselves. I am not referring to high-profile women: the politicians, CEOs, arts and theatre personalities, legal luminaries, medical professionals or business women but ordinary women.
The struggling working and middle classes, the counter sales persons, the baggage ladies, the cleaners constantly on the prowl for unseen litter, employees in factories and wet markets, the property dealers working long hours for that extra dollars.
I rarely come across disgruntled female employees. Communication was a hindrance, but as a real estate agent said, to her the financial burden is enough challenge to pursue the tough road to financial and social independence.
The gender ratio in Hong Kong is tilted in favour of women (The 2011 Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department figures show 939 men for every 1,000 women). If we include the floating population and expats from neighbouring Asian countries making Hong Kong their temporary home, the women certainly outnumber men in control and continuing with their choices in work and marriage.
The few blips on their radar are the continued gullibility to the slimming and whitening formulas enticing them into an unreal world and fascination with fashion. A few days on the Island and one begins to realise that Hong Kong is a city of wonder women with fashion and workability existing hand in hand.
Maria, a Hong Kong resident,vouches for the changes in women’s lifestyle that have continued and not stalled in the fifteen years since the handover. The change, visible when compared with the lifestyle of their grandmothers, is not the end but a continuation for improved child care facilities, crèches, lessening of gender disparities in pay packets and equal opportunities.
When you see the young and restless in Central or Kowloon, in the malls, in bars and luxury places, one thing is definite: that women are enjoying equal social and economic opportunities and status; benchmarks of a civilised society and certainly out of the ‘Lotus feet‘ syndrome even though it was a Mainland China custom.
(I have re-located to my home city, New Delhi)
- Hong Kong: Paradise Lost (chinadailymail.com)
- 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Hong Kong (hotelclub.com)
- July 1 1997 Hong Kong returned to China (chinadailymail.com)