Once upon a time, a long time ago, I used to live up the Peak in Hong Kong. Only rich people live on the Peak. The richer you are the further up you live. We lived half way up.
“Middle Gap Road?” I ask the taxi cab driver. We used to live at no 19.
He looks at me blankly. Not because his English is bad as it turns out. My friend Chris is more resourceful and points out a landmark nearby.
“Ah!” Says the Taxi driver, “People who live on that road don’t use taxis. They have private cars and chauffeurs.”
I tell him that I used to live there 40 years ago.
“So why you not speak Chinese?”
“My bad” I reply.
He laughs and takes us to Middle Gap Road.
“My Bad. It’s been ‘My Bad’ for nearly 53 years. In 1962, when I was 6 months old my family came to live in Hong Kong, leased for a 100 years to the British from Mainland China (well, 99 years and more complicated…). Sounds like Sleeping Beauty but there’s no happy ending. For 100 years, the Great British Empire, did not see fit to give the Hong Kong Chinese the vote. When the time was up, the British passed the land and its people back to Mainland China. No fighting the dragon. No Handsome prince. No Democracy.
By the time I appeared in 1962, my father was on the rise. He was a banker. With the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC). Anyone wealthy had servants. ‘Everyone’ had amahs. These are women who ‘live in’, clean your house and look after your children.
When I was sent to boarding school in England at the age of 11 (my brothers were sent at age 7 – it wasn’t deemed so important for me, a girl), my mother impressed on me the necessity of not ‘bragging’ about all the servants I had so as not to incur the jealousy of my peers. 35 years later, as my teenage son teased me about my wealthy early days it occurred to me how ridiculous it was for a child to ‘brag’ about such things. As I pointed out to him, he didn’t need servants, he had me….
There was so much ‘not to brag about’. I was brought up in a country taken from the Chinese during the opium wars (Britain was the baddie – look it up) and now under British Colonial rule. A rule apparently based on the philosophy of: “The rich man in his castle, the poor man at the gate, God made them high and lowly and ordered their estate.” Memory replays a Sunday morning as we leave the Cathedral to be met by a flock of begging Chinese widows in black. We walk past them to where the chauffeur waits with the Jag.
It’s now 2015. I’ve come back to Hong Kong on a sort of pilgrimage. To make peace. To recover memories. I lived here solidly for the first 13 years of my life. My father remained until I was in my 30s. I’m a white British, Colonial Ex-Pat, I never learned Cantonese and I have no right of abode here. In what way if any, can I call this land “Home”?
I’ve come to find out.