Mahbubani says the reverse also happens when ethnic minorities stereotype the Chinese. “When I told my friends that I ate hot pot, some of my Indian friends were shocked: ‘Do you eat dogs? Cockroaches?’”
Mahbubani says he is well integrated in Hong Kong society, but he has worked hard at it. He is always willing to take the first step, which is not always easy. “Say for my Cantonese, it didn’t come because I just woke up one day and say ‘Oh my God I speak Cantonese!’” , says Mahbubani. Instead, it was the hard graft he put into daily three-hour Cantonese tutorial classes after school. “Sweetness will come after bitterness,” he says using a Chinese idiom to describe his persistence in learning Cantonese.
Like many ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, Mahbubani has had times when he was confused about his position in Hong Kong society. “When I was younger, I would try to blend in, in a way that, I try to be them. But as I grow older, I realise that no matter how hard I try, I will never be a local Chinese.” Instead of changing themselves, he advises others to take advantage of their uniqueness. “We are rare, just like diamonds,” says Mahbubani. “This is how I see ethnic minorities can blend in. Just be yourselves and be someone special.”
This locally born and raised Hongkonger has his own definition of what it means to be a local, “To me, Hong Kong is not a race. It is a mentality. It is the way you think, the way you live. That is why I think I am a Hong Kong person.”
“I am a Hong Kong person who is never a Hong Kong person.”