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Wednesday, July 8, 2015, 09:15

I’m proud to be a ‘locust’

By Feng Chi-shun

I have a confession to make. I am a “locust”.

I qualify because I was born in the mainland, and I am now living in Hong Kong.

I’m proud to be a ‘locust’ Our family came to Hong Kong from the mainland in the 1950s, and we settled in Diamond Hill, then a squatter village. There were many families like ours. We swarmed the hillside of Diamond Hill, renting legal bungalows and building illegal shanty huts. The locals didn’t like it but couldn’t do anything to stop us because we outnumbered them — there was safety in numbers. Most of the “locusts”, our family included, were not from Guangdong province and did not speak Cantonese.

Unlike today, it was then the “locusts” who looked down upon the Cantonese-speaking locals, because of their uncouth manners in public, such as swearing and being loud, spitting and nose-picking. They were also more inclined to queue-jumping, littering, and other antisocial behavior. They were less educated than the “locusts”, who were mostly university graduates, some from very famous institutions in the mainland and overseas. Many “locusts” were fluent in English; the locals were not.

In spite of the many cultural differences and mutual feelings of disdain, I never witnessed any ugly confrontation between the local people and the new immigrants, probably because everybody was too busy trying to make enough money to survive.

There is a new generation of “locusts” coming to Hong Kong. They come here to shop and sightsee. Now it is the “locusts” who are looked down upon. The locals complain about their uncivilized behavior such as eating on trains and letting their toddlers urinate in public. Local people’s grievances against them are countless: They deprive local people of their daily necessities, or their suitcases get in the way of pedestrians and roll over people’s feet. They make traffic congestion worse, and they do not speak a word of Cantonese.

Hong Kong people think they are superior to their mainland brothers and sisters, and some politicians perpetuate this myth by frequently repeating the slogan: “We don’t want to be another Chinese city.” I think their superiority complex is wholly unjustified. All Chinese come from the same gene pool.

Hong Kong people have a lot more going for them — the rule of law, an efficient civil service, a knowledgeable and educated workforce, a free press, and some with an international outlook and English proficiency. But all these advantages are legacies of their past colonial master, which they have inherited.

The young man shown on TV kicking the suitcase of an old man in the “anti-locust” protest in Yuen Long a few months ago was a coward. I might have a little more respect for him had he kicked the suitcase of someone his age and size. I am willing to bet he is not very successful in life, like most bigots.

I am not a fan of the young people of today’s Hong Kong. They have poor language skills. Never mind English; many are unable to speak clearly even in Cantonese. And they are arrogant and self-centered.

The mainland Chinese students I have met are more humble and hardworking, and they speak better English. All you need to do is to use public transport to see the difference between the two groups. In Hong Kong, I have never been offered a seat on the MTR. All the young people rush past me to grab a seat so that they can continue to bury their heads in their smartphones. In Shenzhen, I am often offered a seat on their Metro by young people because of my grey hair, and fewer of them are addicted to their smartphones.

I would never underestimate the potential of the mainland and the people there. The depth of its talent is formidable. Let us suppose 1 percent of the people on the mainland are exceptionally bright and talented. With its population of 1.3 billion, that means there are 13 million of them. Nowadays, many young people on the mainland go overseas for their higher education, just like Hong Kong youngsters. In the near future there will be millions of talented, Western-educated people swarming all over the major cities on the mainland. Many of them will come to Hong Kong, not to shop but to work, and Hong Kong youngsters will be no match for them.

Hong Kong was promised 50 years of autonomy. I predict at the end of that period most of the business and academic leaders in Hong Kong will be mainland-born Chinese, and no one will even notice they were not Hong Kong people originally.

Things change in 50 years. It has been that long since I left Diamond Hill. Nowadays, no one would guess I used to be a “locust”.

The author was a consultant pathologist for the Hong Kong government and St. Paul’s Hospital before his recent retirement.
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